Many Agree Lobbying Policies May Not Actually Reduce Corruption

The most recent effort to curb lobbyists' influence, excluding registered lobbyists from federal advisory panels, continues to get press coverage since first announced in September. The Washington Post predicts that it, "may turn out to be the most far-reaching lobbying rule change so far from President Obama, who also has sought to restrict the ability of lobbyists to get jobs in his administration and to negotiate over stimulus contracts."

The Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs), which includes an estimated 130 lobbyists, asserts that the policy is harmful to U.S. business interests. Some are concerned that the policy, "will severely handicap federal regulators, who rely heavily on advisory boards for technical advice and to serve as liaisons between government and industry."

An opinion piece in RollCall ($$) addresses this concern of "brain drain," and suggests that instead of banning lobbyists, there should be "uniform regulations for all advisory committees parallel to those that govern federal employees. Members should recuse themselves when a committee's work directly affects their personal or financial interests and file financial disclosure forms as well."

The administration's focus on federally registered lobbyists has made for an interesting discussion at the National Journal's new experts forum. The first weekly conversation tackles the new rules meant to curb "special interests."

Gary Bass, OMB Watch executive director, is among the responding experts. He argued that "administration paints all lobbyists with the same brush, creating unnecessary disincentives to lobby, particularly in the nonprofit sector. The Obama administration would be better served by attacking the corrupting influence of money rather than focusing on lobbyists."

He also wrote; "My fear is that the attack on lobbyists simply drives the activity underground, away from disclosure." Indeed, it does, as the Huffington Post discusses the transformation from lobbying to "influence laundering." The article uses former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to highlight the practice of doing work similar to that of a lobbyist, but being able to manipulate it so that it does not fall under the definition of "lobbying activity." Daschle started his new job as a "senior policy advisor" at DLA Piper, a law and lobbying.

The Sunlight Foundation proposes, "a world where the entire influence economy in Washington were available to the public, online and in real time. A daily updated database of lobbyist contacts would show which special interests were involved in the secretive Baucus Gang of Six meetings over the summer."

Despite the rhetoric and broad commentary reacting to the administration's policies, what remains is an issue that should not be overlooked, the role money plays in gaining influence.

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