Judge backs Obama ban on lobbyists serving on federal advisory panels

September 26, 2012

A federal judge Wednesday upheld an Obama administration ban on lobbyists serving on advisory panels, throwing out a lawsuit brought by six lobbyists who hoped to serve on such boards and committees.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled in a 31-page opinion that the lobbyists had failed to make their case that the policy violated their constitutional rights by denying them “a valuable government benefit” because they had petitioned the government, a protected activity under the First Amendment.

Berman wrote that the lobbyists, like any other member of the public, “have no legal entitlement to” serve on advisory boards or committees. She also noted that the lobbyists were not being blocked from receiving a valuable government benefit.

The government, for example, cannot bar people from receiving “tax exemptions, unemployment benefits, welfare payments and public employment” based on their exercise of their First Amendment rights, wrote Berman, who sits on the District’s federal court.

But serving on advisory boards is not such a benefit, Berman wrote, even though attorneys for the lobbyists argued that such appointments give experience, expertise and enhances their résumés.

“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 judge wrote. “The loss of the ability to feature [advisory board] service on a résumé does not come close to imposing the type of burden involved in losing one’s job, unemployment benefits or tax exemptions.”

By one count, there are nearly 1,000 such federal panels with total membership exceeding 60,000 people. The committees advise agencies on everything from trade rules to consumer protections. In 2009, the Obama administration launched an initiative to ban registered lobbyists — there are more than 10,000 — from serving on such boards because White House officials thought it would reduce the influence of K Street on policymaking.

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