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KAI RYSSDAL: Slowly but surely the stimulus money is making its way out of Washington. Before it goes, though, there are a whole lot of lobbyists in town who want to weigh in on how it’s spent — $787 billion will do that to you I suppose. But the White House wants no such thing. Lobbying firms are crying foul, they say the ban violates their rights to petition the government — something about the First Amendment — and they are planning a challenge. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale has the story.
John Dimsdale: Both Barack Obama and John McCain campaigned last year on limiting lobbyists influence. And now the White House has decided that registered lobbyists may not talk to agency officials — either by telephone or in person — about stimulus projects.
Dave Wenhold: It’s very dangerous ground that the president is trampling on right now.
Dave Wenhold is president of the American League of Lobbyists.
Wenhold: I think personally it’s discrimination, segregation and unconstitutional against a class of Americans who are just trying to do their jobs.
But the rule still allows lobbyists to submit comments in writing. William Luneburg is a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who helped to edit the lobbying handbook for the American Bar Association. He doesn’t see any free speech violations in the administration’s new rules.
William Luneburg: The governmental officials are saying we want to listen directly to the client. We don’t want spin put on this. We don’t want political influence staring us in the face in the form of a lobbyist. And after all, it’s the clients that have the substantive interest they’re bringing before the agency. The lobbyist is their mouthpiece.
A recent Harris poll shows some 80 percent of Americans think lobbyists are too influential. Lobby groups vow to fight this in court. But it may not be the end of restrictions on lobbying contacts with the executive branch. The Treasury Department is said to be drawing up similar rules for recipients of bank bailout money.
In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.
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