Lobbyists denounce push to limit their access in shutdown

The American League of Lobbyists on Thursday blasted a Democratic lawmaker for proposing that lobbyists be banned from congressional office buildings during the government shutdown.

Monte Ward, the League’s president, said Rep. David Cicilline’s (D-R.I.) call to restrict lobbyists’ access runs counter to the Constitution.

“Banning any constituent or citizen from the United States Capitol and the congressional office buildings to keep them from meeting with their elected officials is unconstitutional,” Ward said in a statement.

“While we respect the Congressman’s frustration for his constituents, we urge him to remember that all citizens, including lobbyists, have a First Amendment right to redress their grievances. Even though the federal government has shut down, the Constitution and Bill of Rights still stand.”

Ward said the shutdown is inconvenient for K Street as well.

“The shutdown is an inconvenience for every citizen, lobbyists included. We wish Congress the very best for a legislative outcome that will reopen the government and put America back in business.”

Cicilline has been circulating a letter on Capitol Hill that calls on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to close House office buildings to registered lobbyists during the shutdown.

According to a draft obtained by The Hill, Cicilline wrote that lobbyists have been given access that has not been afforded to the public. In turn, he urges Boehner “to limit access to the House office buildings to ‘essential’ staff and constituents” during the shutdown.

“Not only are lobbyists causing extraordinary delays for constituents waiting to get into our buildings, but they are also being given access to public buildings while the average American is unable to visit the U.S. Capitol building, all of our national monuments and parks, and our national museums.

"While our nation’s veterans are being turned away from our national memorials, K street lobbyists are free to roam the hallways of Congress. We strongly feel that registered federal lobbyists should not be able to conduct ‘business as usual’ in the halls of Congress until the shutdown is over,” Cicilline wrote.

In addition, the Rhode Island Democrat noted that while some federal workers have been labeled “non-essential” and have to stay home, lobbyists can continue to come to Capitol Hill and ply their trade.

“We all know that registered federal lobbyists are not ‘essential’ to the functioning of Congress or our government, especially during a federal government shutdown. The federal workers that were deemed ‘non-essential’ are not even allowed to have contact with their offices during the shutdown, yet lobbyists are being allowed to continue to operate in our office buildings,” Cicilline wrote.

Cicilline’s letter urges Boehner to close the House office buildings to K Streeters.

“We hope that you will address this inequality immediately and move to close the House office buildings to registered federal lobbyists during the government shutdown,” Cicilline wrote.

In the first few days of the shutdown, lobbyists have reported no major problems in going about their business. Few meetings with staff and lawmakers have been canceled, according to advocates.

Despite some events being moved off Capitol Hill since no catering service was available, many trade groups persisted with their fly-in visits to the nation’s capital.