Lobbying rules complicate "telecom prom" plans

New lobbying rules could make some senior FCC officials rethink their plans for the "telecom prom" this year.

The Federal Communications Bar Association's Annual Chairman's Dinner is one of the most widely attended events for tech and telecom policy wonks in Washington. Every December, lawyers, lobbyists, FCC Commissioners and staffers, congressional members and Hill staffers fill a large banquet hall at the Hilton Washington just north of Dupont Circle. The highlight of the evening is a monologue delivered by the FCC Chairman, who often take the opportunity to poke fun at the agency's debates and lobbying shenanigans of the past year.

Big companies and law firms usually buy a few tables and invite FCC employees to sit with them. The tickets aren't cheap. This year, a table costs $2,050, according to the FCBA Web site. For an FCBA member working in the private sector, tickets are $205. For a member working in government or academia, tickets are $120. Non-members can attend for $300. Proceeds go toward funding scholarships.

This year, according to sources, the FCC's General Counsel's office has barred senior political appointees who accepted or moved into jobs at the agency after Jan. 20 from attending the dinner as guests of companies and law firms that have registered lobbyists. 

So political appointees who signed President Obama's lobbying ethics pledge (which prevents them from accepting gifts from registered lobbyists) will have to pay their own way to the dinner.

That doesn't mean they won't end up sitting with lobbyists at the event. The FCBA makes seating arrangements for people who are attending individually rather than as part of a pre-purchased table. But registered lobbyists are not supposed to invite staffers to sit at their firm's tables.

The General Counsel's office may need to re-circulate the decision over the next two weeks. A couple of people I spoke with at the FCC weren't aware of the policy.

This year's dinner is Dec. 10.