The Office of Government Ethics proposed a new rule last week that would eliminate many exemptions to gift giving for federal employees. The proposed rule would eliminate most of the exemptions that were available in the past — including gifts worth less than $20 and free attendance to widely attended and other social events when the gift givers are a registered lobbyist or an organization that employs them.
As noted in the Washington Post:
“That could force government employees to check whether gift-givers are lobbyists by looking in disclosure filings.”
Strangely, and with no evidence to back this up, OGE’s stated justification for the proposed rule was that it “is increasingly recognized that the more realistic problem is not the brazen quid pro quo, but rather the cultivation of familiarity and access that a lobbyist may use in the future to obtain a more sympathetic hearing for clients.” This proposed rule, like prior Obama Administration initiatives, fails to grasp that the Lobbying Disclosure Act (Act) was enacted to bolster transparency — not to create disincentives to registration. The Act includes time and financial thresholds to be met before being required to register. This proposed rule could further give rise to what is known as “stealth lobbying” — which is lobbying activity that stays below the registration thresholds and thus stays out of the public eye. Like the irrational limits the Obama Administration placed on former lobbyists coming into government, individuals and organizations that once registered (and perhaps over reported) may elect to navigate the registration thresholds to stay under the radar and simply not register at all. So much for promoting openness in government…