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K Street wants less bashing of lobbyists

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When President Obama takes the dais for his upcoming State of the Union address, K Street would like to hear one thing when it comes to the influence industry: crickets.

“Silence will speak volumes. Finally ending the stock anti-lobbying verbiage would perhaps reflect the maturity of the administration and the pragmatic acknowledgment that the problems and dysfunction in Washington are not caused by lobbyists,” said Nick Allard, dean of Brooklyn Law School and a partner at Patton Boggs. 

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Since winning the White House, Obama has often used his annual high-profile speech to take aim at lobbyists. The president decries their influence and has called for new limits on lobbying in the past, either disclosing K Street’s contact with Congress or restricting their fundraising.

Those working on K Street understand the lobbying profession is an easy target, and Obama’s attacks on them may be motivated more on boosting his popularity than sound policy.

“His poll numbers are low, but the public thinks far less of lobbyists. If he’s desperate to score some points with the public, he will use this opportunity to bash lobbyists,” said Howard Marlowe with Marlowe & Co. and former president of the Association of Government Relations Professionals.

Ethics watchdogs believe Obama should spend less time blasting lobbying in the speech and more time rallying support for campaign finance reform.

In his 2010 State of the Union, the president challenged the Supreme Court on its Citizens United decision that helped millions flow into political advertising. But the White House has not been able to push legislation through Congress that would disclose the donors behind much of that spending.

“This nation needs to hear the president commit to greater transparency of money in politics and work toward a campaign finance system based on equality, participation and accountability. That’s what I would like to hear the president talk about — if even in just a few sentences — in the State of the Union address,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, held similar sentiments as Holman.

“Congress should pass effective transparency legislation now to close the gaping disclosure loopholes that resulted in more than $300 million in secret contributions being spent to influence the 2012 elections,” Wertheimer said.