The Treasury Department has released new guidelines on TARP “lobbying.” The term “lobbying” is in quotes because the guidelines, like those promulgated with regard to the award of stimulus funds, limit communications from outside parties, regardless of whether they happen to be registered lobbyists. In brief, the guidelines (1) allow unrestricted oral communications at widely attended gatherings or with regard to purely logistical issues; (2) prohibit oral communications with outside parties, whether or not they are lobbyists, regarding pending applications for TARP funding; (3) require agency employees to document certain oral communications from registered lobbyists; and (4) require that these documented communications, as well as written communications from lobbyists, be posted Treasury’s website within three business days. Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation has blogged about these new guidelines here.
I simply want to flag one difference between the new TARP guidelines and the prior stimulus guidelines, one which Schuman also notes. While the stimulus guidelines appear to allow oral communications between agency employees and Members of Congress (or congressional staff), the TARP guidelines are fairly clear in only allowing communications between Treasury employees and other “federal executive agency officials.” This means that Members of Congress and their staffs are not permitted to talk with Treasury officials about pending TARP applications.
As I have suggested before, I think that this is a sensible provision, one designed to prevent circumvention of the communication blackout periods. (It will, however, be difficult to enforce). One wonders, however, why there would be a prohibition on congressional lobbying with regard to TARP funds, but not with regard to stimulus funds. One possibility is that the question wasn’t fully considered during the drafting of the stimulus guidelines or that the stimulus guidelines were intentionally left ambiguous on the point. Alternatively, the administration would have to have some explanation as to why congressional lobbying on TARP is worse than lobbying on stimulus. Perhaps there is a feeling that the former is more susceptible to improper influence, or that the latter more properly involves consideration of political factors. Perhaps the administration will be asked to explain the discrepancy at some point.