Lobbying & the Public Interest

Lobbying (and in particular the Obama administration’s limits on employing former lobbyists) is making headlines, again.

I blogged about the basic issue earlier this month: Obama’s Lobbyist Rules & the Baby/Bathwater Problem.

…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.

Here’s the update, from the NY Times: Nonprofit Groups to Push for Exceptions to Lobby Rule. Here’s a key paragraph:

A coalition of nonprofit groups has started a campaign to exempt lobbyists for charitable and social welfare organizations that have tax-free status, meeting with presidential aides and sending them a package of ideas for rewriting the policy.

One of the non-profit groups involved is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Here’s their take, including their own clarificatory letter to the White House: CREW’S POSITION ON SUGGESTED REVISIONS TO ADMIN’S LOBBYING RULES

CREW’s letter to the White House states that the coalition they belong to wants Obama to make a blanket exemption for all…

…individuals who lobbied solely on behalf of an organization determined by the IRS to be a qualified organization under Section 501(c)(3) (public charities) or Section 501(c)(4) (social welfare organizations) of the Internal Revenue Code.”

That seems reasonable in principle. After all, there’s a world of difference between lobbying for Monsanto and lobbying for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, right?

Whitehouse officials balk at the idea of an exemption. The NY Times story says:

…White House officials said there had been no internal debate on the matter and flatly dismissed the proposals, adding that they would not consider any changes because it would start the administration down a slippery slope of declaring some lobbyists acceptable and others unacceptable.

“You can’t have a value judgment,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.

Of course, there would be nothing wrong, in principle, with making ‘value judgments.’ Presumably what Emanuel means is that it would be hard to do so in a consistent and publicly-defensible way.

One key problem with the view expressed by the non-profit groups is the assumption that for-profit corporations are malignant and that not-for-profit groups are always benign. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s pretty easy to find counter-examples. After all, 501(c)(3) organizations include The National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, the marijuana activist group “Hemp Evolution,” the Institute for Energy Research (whose biggest supporter is Exxon Mobil) and any number of other organizations surely dedicated to some vision of the public good, but not necessarily a vision shared by all. So: is your favourite corporation really more dangerous than your least-favourite non-profit group?

1 comment so far

  1. Doug Cornelius on

    Chris –

    The problem with lobbying (and political speech) there is good stuff, bad stuff, and stuff in between. But its hard to distinguish among the stuff.

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