Obama Loosens Up on Lobbyist Ban
Policy + Politics

Obama Loosens Up on Lobbyist Ban


People don’t often claim that lobbyists have too little influence on policy making in Washington, but that appears to be a concern of the Obama administration, according to a notice scheduled to appear in the Federal Register tomorrow. The administration will announce that it is rolling back part of its policy aimed at keeping lobbyists off of the boards and commissions that executive branch agencies assemble to guide policymaking.

As reported by Politico Tuesday, the Obama administration plans to relax the ban to allow registered lobbyists to sit on the boards in an advisory role, though not in an individual capacity. This means lobbyists would be eligible to serve as non-voting members, though they would be privy to the deliberations of a board or commission and free to try to influence its decisions.

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“Lobbyists may still appear before or otherwise communicate with a committee to provide testimony, information, or input in the same manner as non-lobbyists who are not members of or appointees to the advisory committee, board, commission, or any of its subgroups, to the extent permitted by law and regulation,” the notice says.

“The purpose of the policy is to prevent lobbyists from being in privileged positions in government. It is not designed to prevent lobbyists or others from petitioning their government. When lobbyists do testify, committees should make reasonable efforts to ensure that they hear a balance of perspectives and are not gathering information or advice exclusively from registered lobbyists.”

The original ban was put in place in 2010, as part of a broader set of ethics reforms proposed by the President. Since then, the administration has been challenged in court by registered lobbyists who said the blanket ban violated their rights.

While Wednesday’s reversal appears to give lobbyists just one more way into the policymaking process, the fact is that the President’s ban was, to some degree, symbolic. Because it focused on an individual’s registration as a lobbyist, it did nothing for instance, to prevent an attorney who is not herself a lobbyist from serving on an advisory board when one or more of her partners are registered lobbyists.

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It also allowed people who have served as lobbyists in the past to be appointed to executive branch committees and boards so long as they have officially withdrawn their registration.

While not a major change, the administration’s backtracking will be one more data point critics can use to make the case that, as we have noted before, in a Washington where the chief cable television lobbyist is the former head of the Federal Communications Commission, and the current head of the FCC is the former chief cable TV lobbyist, policymaking doesn’t always seem driven by a sense of the public good.

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