Court casts doubt on Obama’s K St. ban

A federal appeals court on Friday called into question President Obama’s policy of banning lobbyists from government advisory boards.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded a district decision that dismissed the lobbyists’ challenge to the ban. The judges ruled that the ban infringed K Streeters’ constitutional right to petition the government under the First Amendment.

“Appellants have pled a viable First Amendment unconstitutional conditions claim. That is, they allege that the government has conditioned their eligibility for the valuable benefit of ITAC membership on their willingness to limit their First Amendment right to petition government,” wrote Judge David Tatel in the court’s opinion.

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ITAC refers to the Industry Trade Advisory Committees, which are jointly managed by the Commerce Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. 

The six lobbyists suing the government are Erik Autor, who represented the National Retail Federation; Nate Herman, who represented the Travel Goods Association on an advisory board; Cass Johnson, lobbying for the National Council of Textile Organizations; Stephen Lamar on behalf of the American Apparel & Footwear Association; Andrew Zamoyski, who represented the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates on an advisory board; and Bill Reinsch, of the National Foreign Trade Council, according to their original complaint.

Except for Reinsch, all of the lobbyists were kicked off a federal advisory committee.

Obama has tried to position himself against the influence industry since his 2008 presidential campaign. The president often derides lobbyists and signed off on an executive order that slowed the revolving door between his administration and K Street, among other actions.

Lobbyists have bristled at the restrictions enforced by the White House, arguing the new rules have sent advocates underground by de-registering from the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). In 2012, The Hill found that several lobbyists had ended their LDA registrations in order to stay on the boards.

The president has sought to reduce lobbyists’ sway in Washington, but Tatel, in the appeals court’s opinion, said, on remand, that the lower court may “want to ask the government to explain how banning lobbyists from committees composed of representatives of the likes of Boeing and General Electric protects the ‘voices of ordinary Americans,’ ” quoting from Obama’s 2010 memo that instituted the ban against lobbyists serving on advisory boards.