Obama Blocks Lobbyists from Government Panels

by Matthew Madia, 6/18/2010

Today, President Obama issued a memo barring registered lobbyists from serving on federal advisory committees, boards, and commissions. A statement on the White House website says:

These part-time agency advisory boards and commissions – of which there are thousands throughout the executive branch – help the government shape policy on everything from international trade to scientific innovation. And while some specialists who’ve held roles on these boards for years have made positive contributions, phasing out those who simultaneously serve as lobbyists will have the added benefit of opening these boards up to fresh faces and engaging more Americans in our governing process. 

The memo only applies to new appointments or reappointments, so lobbyists currently serving on committees, boards, and commissions will not be affected, the White House says.

The memo is a follow-on to aspirational guidance issued by White House special counsel Norm Eisen in September 2009. “Many departments and agencies are making this aspiration a reality by no longer placing federally registered lobbyists on advisory boards – a practice that I am now establishing as the official policy of my Administration,” today’s memo states.

As we wrote then, the policy has drawbacks. It is unclear what problem the White House is trying to solve, and it may keep qualified individuals from serving on agency advisory committees. Obama purports to be targeting “special interests” with “undue influence,” but lobbyists can represent a wide variety of interests – consumers, the environment, the homeless, religious groups, law enforcement, on and on and on.

At least the policy has now been more formally cast in memo form. The September 2009 policy was announced in a blog post. The White House did not disclose any directives it sent to agencies, if any were sent at all. Today’s memo appears to be the first.

The memo instructs the Office of Management and Budget to issue within 90 days guidance on how the lobbyist restrictions will be implemented.

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