Groups ask White House to ease lobbying limits

WASHINGTON -- Lobbyists and public interest groups asked White House officials on Friday to drop their ban on lobbyists discussing economic stimulus projects with Obama administration officials, but got no promises the policy would change, participants said.

President Obama issued the prohibition last month, saying he wanted to prevent lobbyists from influencing how the $787 billion economic stimulus package is spent. Lobbyists are barred from talking to administration officials about specific stimulus projects, and any written statements they submit to federal agencies are to be posted on government websites.

Dave Wenhold, president of the American League of Lobbyists, said the groups proposed allowing lobbyists to have conversations on stimulus projects. They would also require that summaries of all meetings administration officials have with outside groups on stimulus projects -- not just those with lobbyists -- be posted online.

"Whether anything happens or not is kind of up in the air," Wenhold said afterward.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said White House officials defended their policy.

"I think their political judgment is that this is a great fight," she said of Obama's repeated efforts to constrain lobbyists' activities.

Participants also included a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union and Norm Eisen, the White House ethics official who helped write the rules.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the closed meeting, said administration officials told the groups that "we believed the restrictions were tough but fair to make sure that lobbyist communications are as transparent as possible."