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60-Day Review of Lobby Rules Ends Tuesday

The 60-day review period for the Obama administration’s new restrictions on lobbying federal agencies for stimulus funds ends Tuesday, but already there is concern that the White House will not address lobbyists’ concerns that the rules are discriminatory.

“We asked them to get back to us before the deadline,— said American League of Lobbyists President David Wenhold, whose group wants to expand the restrictions to encompass more than just federally registered lobbyists.

So far, Wenhold hasn’t heard anything on whether the White House will make any changes to the rules.

ALL, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are among several interest groups that met with the White House about the rules, which forbid lobbyists from talking or meeting in person with agency officials when lobbying for specific stimulus projects.

“If they don’t accept [our] provisions then this was never truly about transparency for the stimulus money, it was all about anti-lobbying,— Wenhold said.

While it’s unclear how the White House will come out on the issue, so far the administration has staunchly defended the rules.

The Office of Management and Budget is expected to report to the White House its findings on how various agencies are responding to the rules.

ALL, for one, is not waiting for the administration’s response.

The trade association for lobbyists is rolling out the Expanding Our Right to Petition coalition today, according to Wenhold.

The coalition will be made up of lobby shops, law firms and clients that have been disenfranchised by the rule.

The association is also still considering whether to file a lawsuit against the administration.

ALL has hired Ken Gross, an expert in lobbying laws at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, to review its legal case.

Should the White House not make any changes, a lawsuit is likely, according to Melanie Sloan of CREW.

“I think they like beating up on lobbyists a lot,— Sloan said of the Obama administration. “It’s a question of whether the politics or the policy win out.—

Other major trade groups are continuing to weigh in before the Tuesday deadline.

The AFL-CIO is drafting a letter to the administration, asking it to eliminate the prohibition on lobbyists communicating orally with the administration on the stimulus bill, according to union’s legal counsel, Larry Gold.

“We see no public policy purpose that is served by it,— Gold said. “We believe it is disruptive to unions and other organizations to prevent qualified people, experts, the people they’ve designated as their job to engage with the administration— to be prevented from talking with the administration.

The Obama administration released a memo in late March placing the restrictions on lobbyists pushing projects to be built using stimulus money or filing applications on behalf of clients for stimulus funds.

Instead, lobbyists must submit written comments about the projects they represent. The comments will be posted publicly within three business days.

Lobbyists may talk with administration officials about general Recovery Act issues, according to the memo.

However, executive branch and agency staff must document for public review within three business days the date of those meetings, who was there and what was discussed.

Not everyone is opposed to the rules changes.

Several ethics watchdogs have stood behind the White House’s effort to change the way Washington’s lobbying community influences government.

“We think this was a very important and positive step taken by the administration to carry forward their overall goals of changing the way lobbying and lobbyists function in Washington,— Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer said.

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