White House won’t give in on new lobbying changes

Representatives of trade associations have pleaded with the administration to change the guidance, but won no real concessions at a meeting on Monday.

“I think we have made a lot of good points and nothing is going to change,” said Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO). “I guess that is not too unexpected.”

Johnson and more than a dozen other lobbyists met Monday at the White House with Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, and other White House aides.

The lobbyists had hoped the White House might ease its position on the guidance, since it has shown some flexibility on other issues involving K Street. The administration in September issued guidance to all federal agencies that asked them not to appoint lobbyists registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act to their advisory committees.

K Street has protested the request, with the loudest voices coming from those in the trade sector.

Lobbyists for the electronics, manufacturing, textile and other industries make up much of the membership for the Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITAC), 16 different panels that advise the U.S. government during its trade negotiations with foreign powers. Under the new guidance, they would all have to leave the ITACs or give up their lobbying work.

A number of ITAC members attended Monday’s meeting.

In a post on the White House blog Monday, Eisen indicated the policy will stay despite the complaints.

“The purpose of the president’s agenda to change the way business is done in Washington is to level the playing field to make sure that all Americans and not just those with access to money or power are able to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed by Washington,” Eisen wrote.

Eisen wrote that the guidance was “not about the few corrupt lobbyists or specific abuses by the profession, but rather concerns the system as a whole,” and that the White House had no intention of rescinding the guidance.

In response to a question from one attendee at Monday’s meeting, Eisen also indicated he would not recommend a waiver process, according to lobbyists at the meeting.

The White House installed a waiver process for an executive order designed to stop the revolving door between the private and public sectors. This has allowed some lobbyists to serve in the Obama administration.

Eisen argued in his blog post that by not having lobbyists appointed to the advisory committees, the administration will be able to bring in fresh expertise outside of the Beltway to serve on the panels. The White House has already begun recruiting small-business owners to take up committee spots that will open up.

“The result will be a Washington that is more reflective of all of America,” Eisen wrote.

Eisen also said he thought technology — specifically teleconferencing — will allow committees to meet more often and more openly than they have in the past. In his blog post, the ethics counsel said 5,000 people watched a recent meeting of the president’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology that was broadcast online.

But Johnson argues the executives of his member companies will not be able to serve on the panels.

“Our CEOs have recognized that they don’t have the time or the expertise to do this, which is why they set up small trade associations in the first place,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he, as a registered lobbyist, will be kicked off the ITAC he serves on. His trade association has not figured out a way to have someone else serve, since every other employee is a registered lobbyist as well.

Eisen wrote in his blog post Monday that the ITAC members seemed willing to help find qualified replacements to serve on the committees.

“We basically said, ‘Good luck,’” Johnson said. “The companies who can will do their best.”