Judge backs lobbyist ban on boards

By Frederic J. Frommer
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s ban on federally registered lobbyists serving on government advisory boards.

The lawsuit was filed by six lobbyists who wanted to serve on Industry Trade Advisory Committees that provide advice to the Commerce Department or U.S. Trade Representative.

They claimed the policy violated the First Amendment by depriving them of a valuable government benefit because they have petitioned the government over issues.

But in her ruling last week, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that serving on an advisory board is not a valuable government benefit.

“The Supreme Court has recognized tax exemptions, unemployment benefits, welfare payments, and public employment as valuable government benefits that cannot be withdrawn as a consequence of an individual’s exercise of his First Amendment rights,” Jackson wrote.

“In each of these contexts, the plaintiffs were deprived of a nontrivial economic benefit.”

Even if service on the advisory board “is desirable because it burnishes a member’s professional credentials and fattens his or her rolodex (or today, his ‘Contacts’), the value of that opportunity is not easily equated to the obvious worth of the governmental benefits that have been recognized by the Supreme Court.

The loss of the ability to feature (advisory committee) service on a resume does not come close to imposing the type of burden involved in losing one’s job, unemployment benefits, welfare payments, or tax exemptions.”

Jackson is an appointee of President Barack Obama.

The Commerce Department and U.S. Trade Representative banned federally registered lobbyists from serving on the trade advisory committees after the White House announced in 2009 that it “has informed executive agencies and departments that it is our aspiration that federally-registered lobbyists not be appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions.”

The White House said the step was made as part of its effort to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington.