By Dave Wenhold - 05/12/09 05:57 PM EDT
On March 20, President Obama issued an executive memo stating that law-abiding, compliant, registered lobbyists are not needed or wanted to discuss stimulus-related projects.
The memo banned oral and telephonic communications with lobbyists on stimulus-related projects and has naturally progressed into lobbyists being shut out of meetings with agency personnel on non-stimulus-related meetings. What is shameful is that they don’t ask if you are a felon, a sexual predator or a terrorist; but if you are a compliant lobbyist, then the administration doesn’t want anything to do with you.
What the government has failed to realize is that it is ultimately damaging its own decisionmaking process by not getting all of the critical information available to make the “merit-based decisions” it so proudly talks about. If the administration put aside all the lobby-bashing rhetoric for one second and looked at where much of the information comes from in this town, it would realize it is from the lobbying community!
The administration continues to bring up convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff as the poster child for this policy, and I know every lobbyist out there takes offense to this characterization. Does that mean that every politician coming out of Illinois is akin to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D)? Of course not. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of lobbyists are out there representing their clients responsibly, ethically and with the highest regard for accountability.
ALL has partnered with the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to send a letter urging the White House to rescind or modify the memo, explaining that it would not achieve the transparency and accountability the administration seeks. Quite frankly, the executive memo would reduce transparency and encourage lobbyists to de-register and not be held to the same strict rules and regulations registered lobbyists are held to. The group has given the administration a proposal that would increase transparency and accountability without banning any American’s civil rights.
Every American should be up in arms about a group of law-abiding citizens losing their rights to petition the government. Today it’s the lobbyists; tomorrow it could be you! One of the main tenets of the First Amendment is that we the people have the right to petition the government to ensure all Americans have their ideas and voices heard. The Founding Fathers were brilliant in drafting this language because they themselves had been victims of discrimination and muzzled by the English monarchy. By drafting those words in the very first amendment, it is clear that they intended for this great country never to have any of its citizens denied this critical civil right, regardless of job title.
ALL has received hundreds of e-mails from angry lobbyists who are outraged by the administration’s actions. ALL is working on multiple levels in dealing with this toxic threat, but we will need EVERY lobbyist involved in this effort. Regardless of whether you have a stake in the stimulus bill, every lobbyist’s rights and our clients’ voices are being muzzled. If you have been denied a meeting or turned away simply because you are a lobbyist, ALL needs to know about that.
The right for all Americans to petition the government equally is not open to interpretation or for one person, even a president with high approval ratings, to dictate which Americans are “worthy” and which are not to participate in our government.
Like most Americans, I want the president to succeed in turning the country around, but this is not the way to go about it. This order needs to be rescinded or modified with the changes we suggested to the White House to make all meetings transparent. Banning citizens from petitioning their government will never be a change we can believe in!
Wenhold, CAE, is a founding partner of Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies, a Washington government-affairs and grassroots lobbying firm. He also serves as president of the American League of Lobbyists. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.