Lobbyist fury at Obama

UK lobbyists have attacked US President Barack Obama's latest crackdown on lobbyists.

‘Perverse’ Obama’s rules
‘Perverse’ Obama’s rules

Obama has developed unprecedented rules that bar lobbyists from calling or meeting with government employees to discuss projects related to the recent $787 economic stimulus package.
 
The President has said lobbyists cannot be part of any meetings or phone calls, but can submit their thoughts or comments in writing. A White House spokesman said: ‘The goal is full transparency.’
 
But Open Road CEO Graham McMillan was fiercely critical of the plan.
 
He said: ‘The Obama administration is keen to respond to public opinion about the stimulus package that it must be seen to be spent fairly and appropriately.  This reflects the massive US public anger at the bonuses that went to AIG officials and it also reflects Obama’s campaign pledge to change US politics and crack down on the rules on lobbying.’
 
McMillan continued: ‘It is understandable that the Obama administration wants to do something in this area.  However, as the attached emails point out, these restrictions are perverse. 
 
‘They are a disincentive to register as a lobbyist in the first place, which is contrary to the purpose of registration.  They also do nothing to stop campaign donors, company directors and members of Congress from having private conversations with officials.
 
‘They therefore are a very retrograde step and not consistent with the right of all people to make equal representations to government on an issue of concern to them.  They are an empty gesture which will not help anything and disadvantage those people who have taken the trouble to register properly as lobbyists.’
 
Senior members of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) also feared the rules would provide an incentive for companies to lobby using unregistered staff.
 
A senior APPC source said: ‘President Obama's Executive Order limiting contact between the Executive Branch and registered lobbyists on specific projects financed under the Recovery Act to written or recorded telephone calls published on the Web raises interesting contrasts with the UK position.
 
‘First, the UK procedures for procurement and grant awards pretty much already follow the rules that the President is setting out here. We don't have the tradition of deals around Federal funding that exists in the States. We do have the transparent and clear rules and criteria for which the President is calling.
 
‘Secondly, his approach in applying the Order only to registered lobbyists shows the danger of applying discriminatory rules and arbitrary definitions. In the US, any executive who spends more than 20 per cent of his or her time on Federal level "advocacy" has to register as a lobbyist.
 
‘President Obama's Order doesn't apply to a company executive who spends 19 per cent of his or her time on advocacy, thus providing an incentive for companies to lobby using unregistered staff. This acts against transparency and potentially disadvantages smaller companies which don't have the ability to spread the advocacy across a number of people to minimise registration.
 
‘The APPC and PRCA have always been clear that registration should apply to anyone who interacts with the institutions of government. That avoids discrimination - and possible legal action - and perverse incentives.’

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