Obama Administration Partially Reverses Lobbying Guidance

In the wake of a reinstated lawsuit and a judge's suggestion that a ban might limit the free-speech rights of government relations officials, the Obama administration will allow registered lobbyists once again to serve on federal advisory boards—if they're representing a client.

The news is pretty good for people who work in the government relations space, though it may be a setback to Obama administration’s effort toward cutting special interest influence in Washington.

On Tuesday, the administration announced that it would soften its standards for registered lobbyists looking to serve on federal advisory boards that set regulatory policy. President Obama had instructed agencies and executive branch staff in 2010 that including lobbyists on such panels was strongly discouraged. The move was intended to curtail their direct influence on government concerning the matters they focus on as advocates.

However, the administration’s policy was challenged in court by lobbyists who were removed from trade advisory roles. While the lawsuit were initially dismissed, according to The Hill, the case was reinstated in January, with the judge implying that their First Amendment rights may have been violated.

Now, the administration has updated its guidance and will now allow lobbyists to once again serve on these boards—as long as they’re representing a client. While not fully rolling back the 2010 decision, it gives government relations officials more leeway.

The Association of Government Relations Professionals (formerly known as the American League of Lobbyists) welcomed the move, noting that it has been advocating for a change since the White House’s Office of Management and Budget first announced the restriction.

“We are pleased at this development and are thankful to the group of lobbyists who brought this suit against the White House and its policy of preventing policy experts who happened to be registered lobbyists from participating in the policy making and advisory process,” the group said in a statement.

And Mayer Brown Partner Charles Rothfeld, who represented the lobbyists in the legal battle, argued that the initial move was unjustified and “harmed the public interest in transparency.”

“This change vindicates the First Amendment rights of these individuals, while also allowing trade agencies to benefit from their technical expertise,” he told The Hill.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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