New administration rules could trigger lobbying deregistration rush

With hundreds of advisory boards and committees, the loss of registered, law-abiding, compliant, subject-matter experts — who just happen to call themselves lobbyists — will have many unintended consequences that could threaten the efficacy of these boards to make solid recommendations to the government.

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These advisory boards, committees and groups need, and should be able, to identify the best people possible to serve, regardless of job title. Should the administration ban CEOs next because of their companies’ interests or associations that the administration doesn’t agree with? The argument that there is some perceived inherent danger in working with a lobbyist is simply absurd.

The unintended consequences of this latest policy are in direct conflict with the administration’s stated goals of increasing transparency, limiting big special interests and being inclusive of all solid ideas.

Individuals will simply deregister as “lobbyists” in order to remain on the advisory boards and committees and shift their lobbying responsibilities so as not to trigger the registration threshold. They will continue to provide the service to their clients, but will no longer be subjected to any rules governing them!

Also, because the small and medium associations, organizations and businesses make up a large percentage of these positions, they are going to be disenfranchised from participating because most cannot afford to assign a different non-lobbyist expert to serve on these advisory boards and committees. Conversely, the Fortune 500 and other major corporations can afford to do so; therefore, this policy will only increase their input. So once again, the people and voices representing Main Street won’t have a say, while Wall Street gets more say.

The hypocrisy of the administration’s anti-lobbying policy is illustrated by its announcement that it wanted to rid the boards of registered lobbyists who have ties to industry; yet, not a week later, the administration went against its own internal policy and named a lobbyist to head the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. I am sure this person will do an excellent job and is the right person for the position, but the fact that the administration says one thing and does the complete opposite is mind-blowing. The agencies in charge of these advisory boards must be astounded by the “Do as I say, not as I do” policy that they are being forced to implement.

Additionally, it cannot be reassuring to those in charge of these advisory boards and committees that they will ultimately be responsible for creating and implementing policies while eliminating many of their longtime experts. The loss of those skilled in both the institutional knowledge of the industry and knowledge of the political process will only serve to weaken the decisions made on these policies. At a time when our country needs the best merit-based decisions, putting political neophytes on a board dealing with complex issues is surely a recipe for disaster.

The administration’s need to continually point to lobbyists as the “problem” reminds me of the parable of the scorpion and the frog. Instead of working together to create a better solution and a more transparent community, they decide to “sting the frog that is helping them” and ultimately hurt themselves in the process. It appears this administration cannot help itself because, as the parable states, “it’s in their nature.” This administration would rather cut off its nose to spite its face than ever admit that lobbyists can, and do, add value to the political process.

 
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 dwenhold@mwcapitol.com.