Diverse groups coalesce to protest Obama lobbyist speech restrictions

A coalition of groups across the political and issue spectrum has banded together to oppose speech controls on lobbyists that President Barack Obama outlined in a recent executive memo.

The groups sent letters to the White House expressing their concerns and just held a conference call with reporters discussing why the policy is a step back for the Fist Amendment right for citizens to petition their government.

The Center for Competitive Politics is joining this nascent coalition, which includes the American League of Lobbyists, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Society for Association Executives and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Here are links to the letters from the ACLU, CREW and ALL; the letter from ASAE and CCP’s letter.

The coalition of groups assembled to fight this speech restriction is very interesting. It’s pretty clear that the administration has crossed the line when Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington thinks the speech restrictions on lobbyists is a glaring overreach.

On today’s conference call, CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said the policy is "really a case of the emporer having no clothes," and "demonizing lobbyists is not the solution."

ACLU and CREW stressed support for other lobbyist initiatives Obama has enacted, but they say the administration has gone too far (even as they support the basic goal of increasing transparency and reducing corruption).

Wenhold and others pointed out that the impact of the bill is likely to be the opposite of Obama’s stated intent — to increase transparency in government — because it will compel some lobbyists to deregister and still allows executives, union leaders and other non-registered advocates to communicate through meetings and phone calls.

More importantly, Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, indicated the bill has serious constititonal problems: "The First Amendment is clearly implicated here," she said. "I think the issue is very much about freedom of speech and the ability to petition the government."

Dave Wenhold, president of the American League of Lobbyists, was more forceful: ""No president regardless of his approval rating should be allowed to discriminate or take away a right of a group of law-abiding Americans," he said.

Wenhold hedged and CCP would disagree with one aspect of CREW and ACLU’s solution, which involves requiring government officials to keep a log of all communications with "private interests." No word on whether or not that would require the Social Security Administration to keep a file on everyone who tries to help their grandmother with a Social Security problem…

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