Obama’s Lobbyist Rules & the Baby/Bathwater Problem

Here’s a cool story about unanticipated consequences (at least I think they’re unanticipated). From the Washington Post: Public Interest Groups Decry Obama’s Strict Lobbying Rules.

President Obama’s war with K Street is escalating, this time over stringent new rules on lobbyists attempting to land federal stimulus money for their clients.

An unlikely alliance of groups — including one co-founded by Obama’s chief ethics adviser — argue that the restrictions will penalize those who play by the rules while doing nothing to curb the influence of large corporations and campaign donors.

Leaders of the groups, which include Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the American League of Lobbyists, also said yesterday that they are preparing to challenge the guidelines on First Amendment grounds if the administration does not agree to revise them.

“President Obama has managed to unconstitutionally ban American citizens from one of our most sacred rights, and it’s flat-out wrong,” said Dave Wenhold, president of the lobbying league, which has joined CREW and the American Civil Liberties Union in demanding a repeal of the gag rules. “This is not how a democracy works; this is how a totalitarian regime works….”

The basic problem is how to limit excess influence without limiting free speech. Everyone decries the influence of lobbyists in Washington, but most of us can probably think of some group or cause we’d like to see promoted in Washington, and we probably think it’s a bad thing for those lobbyists to go unheard. But in effect, Obama’s well-intentioned restrictions on lobbying mean not just restrictions on lobbyists for Walmart, Exxon, McDonalds, etc., but also restrictions on lobbyists for Ducks Unlimited, the Boyscouts, and Anytown USA.

(By the way, I posted about lobbying last month — Lobbyists, Ethics, Earmarks — and Dave Wenhold posted a long & interesting comment on it.)

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