Federal court tosses out lawsuit challenging Obama’s lobbyist ban

A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit against President Obama’s policy of banning lobbyists from federal advisory committees.  

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Wednesday granted the government’s motion to dismiss the case after finding that the lobbyists’ constitutional rights were not infringed by the White House’s prohibition against them serving on advisory boards, specifically the Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs). 

In a memorandum to her ruling, Berman Jackson said the lobbyists failed to show that they were denied a valuable government benefit by not serving on the committees. 

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“The government’s refusal to allow registered lobbyists to serve on ITACs may make it more difficult for plaintiffs to make the kinds of contacts within the government that could improve their effectiveness as lobbyists and it may deny them the opportunity to tout those connections and enhance their business generation. But the government is not required to help plaintiffs ‘realize all the advantages’ of their lobbying activity,” the judge said in the memo.

The judge also said that the lobbyists “seem to suggest that being able to tout their status as government insiders and advisors will enhance their ability to attract lobbying clients in the future and advance their goals.”

Lobbyists filed their complaint in September 2011 against the Commerce Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the two government agencies that oversee the ITACs. They argued the lobbyist ban violated their First Amendment rights. 

The six lobbyists that sued the government are Erik Autor of the National Retail Federation; Nate Herman, who represented the Travel Goods Association on an advisory board; Cass Johnson of the National Council of Textile Organizations; Stephen Lamar of the American Apparel & Footwear Association; Bill Reinsch of the National Foreign Trade Council; and Andrew Zamoyski of Zamoyski and Co.

With the exception of Reinsch, all of the lobbyists were booted off a federal advisory panel, according to their complaint. 

Several of the lobbyists referred questions to their lawyers at Mayer Brown, who declined to comment for this piece. 

Lobbyists have bristled at the advisory board ban. Some argue that because the policy only applies to individuals registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, many lobbyists have terminated their registrations to serve on the committees.

A review by The Hill earlier this year found several lobbyists serving on the ITACs had de-registered after the policy came into effect.

The American League of Lobbyists (ALL) has followed the case and said they are reviewing the judge's ruling. 

"The League is currently reviewing the lengthy opinion and may have comments when it is done doing so. This is not ALL’s lawsuit though naturally we are interested in the issue and have publicly been outspoken about the administration’s position on banning industry experts from ITACs. Our counsel has advised that this opinion is appealable," said a spokesman for ALL. 

— This story was updated at 4:09 p.m.