Tuesday, June 2, 2009, 10:15 AM

White House Expands Restrictions On Stimulus Lobbying

Late last Friday, through the unusual vehicle of a blog entry, the White House ethics counsel announced that restrictions on oral communications about Recovery Act projects now apply not just to federally-registered lobbyists, but also to unregistered lobbyists, "as well as anyone else exerting influence on the process." In March, the White House barred federal lobbyists from communicating with agency officials, in person or by phone, regarding particular Recovery Act projects.

Friday's announcement also establishes a window during which oral discussions about Recovery Act projects are prohibited. That window begins when grant applications are submitted and ends when awards are made.

The latest announcement indicates that agencies will still be required to post on their websites certain communications received from registered lobbyists. Under the White House's March directive, officials were required to publish (or summarize in writing) on agency websites two kinds of permissible communications from registered lobbyists: (1) written comments about specific Recovery Act projects and (2) oral communications about Recovery Act "policy issues" that do not "touch upon" particular projects. Under Friday’s guidance, it’s not clear whether oral communications with lobbyists about particular projects must be made public, even if they occur prior to the receipt of grant applications, or whether the publication requirement now pertains only to communications about Recovery Act policy.

Other matters are also left unresolved by White House counsel's blog post. For example, the new guidance is silent as to what kinds of oral communications with agency officials would not involve "exerting influence" on agency officials, meaning that such communications could occur even after competitive grant applications are received. Likewise, Friday's guidance does not indicate whether the restrictions on oral communications apply only when persons are acting on behalf of an applicant for Recovery Act funds. It is also not clear whether the ban on oral communications is triggered by a party's own application or by the submission of an application by any grant competitor. Finally, the blog post does not say whether the revised guidance is immediately in force or will take effect only after the publication of more "detailed guidance," which the White House counsel says is coming.

Political GPS will continue to follow these developments and update readers as additional information is available.

If you have any questions, comments or would like to schedule a consultation, please feel free to contact Larry (email, (202) 857-4429) or Jim (email, (202) 857-4417).

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