Opposition to lobbyist gift ban rule begins to gather among trade groups

A number of business groups who host trade shows are speaking out against a new regulation that would ban lobbyists’ gifts for all federal workers.
 
The proposed regulation from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) would expand a lobbyist gift ban first authorized by President Obama from just political appointees to all government workers.
 

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Watchdog groups have praised the proposed rule but several on K Street are frustrated that the Obama administration is targeting them once again.
 
Business groups’ lobbyists worry the proposed rule could lead to government workers not attending the trade shows and conferences they host every year.
 
Don Erickson, director of government relations for the Security Industry Association (SIA), said his trade group plans to lobby against the proposed rule.
 
“This is going to become a huge priority for us. We are strongly opposed to this for a number of reasons,” Erickson said. “We believe it is discriminatory against trade associations who offer this type of programming.”
 
SIA’s member companies are made up of electronic and physical security companies.
 
By “programming,” Erickson is referring to a number of events and trade shows hosted by the security industry, such as the SIA Government Summit, where Erickson stressed government workers are not lobbied but attend conferences and seminars to better learn their craft. The security trade group works with a number of federal agencies, such as the Homeland Security Department, the Defense Department and the General Services Administration.
 
Under the proposed rule, government workers could not attend events hosted by lobbying groups for free.
 
There are some exceptions to the gift ban for groups who have registered to lobby, such as 501(c)(3) nonprofit groups, media companies acting in their news-making capacity, institutions of higher learning and professional associations that help with job training. Further, federal workers can attend any event hosted by a lobbying group if they are expected to speak at the event.
 
Yet trade groups note that OGE made a point that trade associations are not exempt from the proposed rule since their primary purpose is not education but lobbying.
 
“Trade associations may sponsor educational activities for their members and even the public, but the primary concern of such associations generally is not the education and development of members of a profession or discipline, which is the focus of the proposed exclusion,” OGE said in its proposed rule.
 
“It's great that you can have a government speaker there but I do think you are depriving other government employees from being there and learning,” Erickson said. “We don't view these sessions as lobbying but rather as educational. It seems like we're getting caught up in some kind of lobbying reform when there has been no evidence that any problem exists with educational sessions.”
 
Like SIA, other trade associations are critical of the proposed rule.
 
“Good policy doesn’t come from a vacuum,” said Stephanie Craig, communications director for TechAmerica. “It’s vital for government to meet with as broad an audience as possible, including the critical voice of industry directly and through trade associations, to understand what it takes to ensure jobs and economic prosperity.”
 
Craig said the tech trade group opposes the proposed regulation and is considering filing a comment.
 
TechAmerica’s concerns follow strong words from another major tech trade group.
 
In a Sept. 20 statement, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), criticized the proposed rule. The trade association owns and operates the International CES, the massive tech trade show held each January in Las Vegas that government workers often attend.
 
“The present White House restrictions on political appointee participation is embarrassing, problematic and not helpful to our hosting responsibilities. It also hinders efforts to expand travel to the U.S. Extending this requirement to career civil servants would deny government employees the ability to learn about what is happening in business, forge relationships and understand how their actions impact jobs-creating businesses,” Shapiro said. “I cannot understand why the administration would seek to further segregate business and government when we need and must have economic growth and job creation.”
 
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A CEA spokesman said the group will file a comment on the proposal.
 
Business groups are not the only ones worried about the proposed regulation. Government employees will be affected as well and at least one federal worker union has offered some criticism of the rule.
 
In a statement to The Hill, Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), said the federal workers’ union is continuing to analyze the proposed rule.
 
“Our initial view is that the proposed rule may be overly broad and should be clarified,” Kelley said.
 
NTEU — which represents workers in several major federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the IRS and the Securities and Exchange Commission — plans to file a comment on the proposal before the Nov. 14 deadline.