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Hanging Tough on Lobby Restrictions

Administration Says Rules Will Apply Only to Registered Lobbyists

The White House’s top ethics cop said on Tuesday that “there is a process— in place for enforcing the new lobbying rules on the books since President Barack Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20.

“We have had extensive conversations with both the groups that agree with the rules and disagree with the rules,— White House special counsel Norman Eisen said Tuesday at George Washington University. “We’re also in regular conversation with the agencies.—

Speaking at a panel hosted by the university’s Graduate School of Political Management, Eisen said, “The battle between the public interests and the special interests is as old as the republic — and indeed older.

“It was one of the fundamental struggles that’s addressed in the Federalist Papers. … It has been a reoccurring theme,— Eisen said. “It is a unique moment to have a reformer occupy the Oval Office. It is not a frequent historical occurrence.—

The event, “Legislating Lobbyists,— also included Common Cause President Bob Edgar; Joel Jankowsky, the longtime lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington; and Sunlight Foundation Executive Director Ellen Miller.

Eisen, a former partner at the law firm Zuckerman Spaeder, has been charged by Obama with curtailing lobbyists’ involvement in the executive branch by identifying the tricks of the trade — and banning them.

Early on in his administration, Obama issued an executive order eliminating gifts — even of nominal value — to White House staffers by lobbyists and imposing strict revolving-door bans on exiting employees.

The administration has also prohibited registered lobbyists from talking or meeting with federal agency officials to lobby on specific projects that would be funded with stimulus dollars. Instead, those lobbyists must submit their arguments in writing, a move that has raised the ire of much of the lobbying community and free-speech advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union.

Eisen said on Tuesday that Obama had been “careful not entirely to undermine the system— by throwing out laws already on the books, preferring instead to build on the existing policy of the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

Lobbyists have argued that because the LDA has a relatively narrow scope, there remain plenty of legal ways to influence public policy in Washington without registering under the LDA.

True reform, they say, would involve imposing the same restrictions on those “lobbyists— — people who give strategic legislative advice or make only one lobbying contact — who are not required to file an LDA registration.

But Eisen said the administration would continue to use the LDA as its basis for actions.

“There is a well-recognized lobbying regulatory regime in the … Lobbying Disclosure Act that makes a distinction between lobbyists and non-lobbyists.

“And it makes that distinction based on a long line of ills associated with the lobbying profession,— he continued. “That’s not to say that everyone who’s a lobbyist engages in those practices, but there has been a correlation.—

And while the administration is definitely off-limits to lobbyists, Eisen on Tuesday encouraged those in attendance to drop a note in the White House’s suggestion box if any light bulbs appear.

“If you have thoughts, suggestions, ideas, questions, criticisms, initiatives — send them our way,— he said. “We love them.—

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