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A Strange Analogy

           As I have discussed before, the Obama Administration has imposed, by executive order, certain rules that apply only to lobbyists registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.  One of these rules prohibits executive branch officials from meeting with lobbyists regarding specific projects funded by the stimulus bill.   

            The principal author of these policies is apparently Norm Eisen, who serves as the special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform.  Mr. Eisen met last week with representatives of three groups which oppose the stimulus lobbying rule, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American League of Lobbyists (ALL).  He posted a description of this meeting on the White House blog (hat tip: Paul Blumenthal of the Sunlight Foundation). 

            There is not much substance to Eisen’s description of the meeting.  What caught my eye, though, was his explanation of why he had agreed to the meeting in the first place:  “As the President has noted, one of the hallmarks of being tough is that you not only talk to the people you agree with—you talk to the ones you disagree with.” 

            Unless I am missing something, Eisen appears to be analogizing his willingness to meet with CREW, the ACLU and ALL to the President’s willingness to meet and have dialogue with the leaders of unfriendly regimes like Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba.  This seems like a strange analogy to begin with; one would think that the administration has an obligation to listen to American citizens aggrieved by government policy that is quite different from the considerations which govern whether to conduct discussions or negotiations with foreign governments, hostile or otherwise. 

            Leaving that aside, though, the whole point of the executive order on stimulus lobbying is to forbid executive officials from meeting with registered lobbyists to discuss certain subjects.  Admittedly, the order doesn’t distinguish between lobbyists who “agree” or “disagree” with the administration, but it is premised on the notion that the very act of meeting with or talking to lobbyists creates either the appearance or the reality of impropriety.  It seems odd that an administration so proudly unafraid of meeting with representatives of hostile foreign powers is scared of meeting with a lobbyist for Topeka, Kansas. 

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