Anti-lobbyist policy unconstitutional?
posted at 9:03 am on March 28, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
President Obama announced a series of restrictions for government agencies in dealing with lobbyists this week, and free-speech advocates have begun objecting. Officials in charge of spending stimulus money cannot speak with lobbyists in person or on the phone, and in fact now have to start every conversation by asking the person whether they are a registered lobbyist. The ACLU and CREW believe that Obama has violated the First Amendment and want the policy changed:
Free speech advocates from across the political spectrum are accusing President BarackObama of impinging on First Amendment rights and are gearing up to take their case public.
At issue is an unprecedented directive that Obama— who has long railed against lobbyists as the personification of a corrupt Washington culture — issued last week barring officials charged with doling out stimulus funds from talking to registered lobbyists about specific projects or applicants for stimulus cash.
Under the directive, which began going into effect this week, agency officials are required to begin meetings about stimulus funding for projects by asking whether any party to the conversation is a lobbyist.
“If so, the lobbyist may not attend or participate in the telephonic or in-person contact, but may submit a communication in writing,” reads Obama’s memo, which requires the agencies to post lobbyists’ written communications online.
The rule is intended to prevent stimulus funds form being “distributed on the basis of factors other than the merits of proposed projects or in response to improper influence or pressure,” according to the memo.
This procedure sounds a lot like the kinds of questions hookers ask johns to keep from getting busted, under the mistaken notion that a cop has to admit his identity if asked directly to avoid entrapment. In this case, with loads of cash going to little use, the situation is reversed but still ironically applicable. The johns now have to ask the hookers whether they’re professionals or amateurs.
The ACLU and CREW consider this an unconstitutional infringement. The First Amendment reads in full:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I made this point repeatedly during the campaign: lobbying is a Constitutionally protected activity. Obama (and to an almost equal amount John McCain) made lobbyists a fetish over the last two years. Hillary Clinton actually made the most sense during that time, noting that most lobbyists perform a necessary task well and without corruption. People hire lobbyists to pursue their political agendas, a task made more and more necessary the larger and more powerful the federal government becomes.
That’s really the key to ending lobbyist influence. Reducing federal power and cutting back federal spending would push lobbyists out of Washington DC. Otherwise, the government doesn’t need to act like a participant in prostitution in any sense and in any way during lobbyist communications, as long as Congress can’t earmark funds for contributors and all transactions are fully transparent and accountable. So far, our political class has been reluctant to do that, although Obama himself did partner with Tom Coburn to force more sunlight on Capitol Hill while in the Senate.
This is an absurd construct that will only make the people more disconnected from the Leviathan Obama envisages. When Obama loses the ACLU, well, that should speak volumes.