POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Right to Petition the Government Under Assault

by David Trumbull

October 2, 2009

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. –First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

There it is, in black and white. There are but three professions that enjoy specific protection by the U.S. Constitution—clergy, journalist, and lobbyists. It couldn’t be plainer. The sort of free Republic that the founders sought, that we were all taught in school is the best frame of government the world has known, and which guarantees to every American citizen freedom of conscience to worship or not as he sees fit, freedom to discuss ideas even if they be out of favor with the ruling majority, and freedom to speak or write to elected officials and tell them what we think depends on those three freedoms secured by the First Amendment.

Sadly, President Obama doesn’t see it that way. Last week Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform posted on the White House blog “the next step in the President’s efforts to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington.” White House informed executive agencies and departments that lobbyists should not be appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions.

That White House announcement went on to say: “The President recognizes that some lobbyists advocate for public interest goals shared by this Administration. Nevertheless, the President made a commitment to the American people to reduce the influence of lobbyists in Washington…” There it is: to President Obama there are two types of lobbyist. Good lobbyists advocate for the public interest goals of his Administration. Bad lobbyists, i.e., those who oppose Obama’s radical agenda, are a baleful influence in Washington. This is directly contrary to the Constitution’s broad protection of all lobbyists. The idea that the right to speak you mind to elected and appointed officials is contingent on you agreeing with the President, which is what Mr. Obama is decreeing by Executive Order, is an outrage.

My Washington work of a lobbying kind falls short of the requirement to register, so this new policy will not force me off the advisory committee where I serve at appointment by the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative. However, it will force many of my colleagues off. And who will be harmed? Small companies and associations typically have but one person with the specialized skills needed to advise the government. Some of the smaller ones have no in-house expertise and rely on a lobbyist. Big corporations have big staffs and can easily comply with the new White House policy. This new Obama policy is a boon to big business under the guise of reform.

It will also likely result in lobbyists tweaking their time in order to just barely avoid needing to register with the result that there will be less, not more, tranparency in the system.

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]