Obama's Stimulus Steps Hint at Future Lobbying Reform?

| Fri Mar. 20, 2009 2:13 PM PDT

Speaking today to the National Conference of State Legislatures, President Obama placed some stiff new restriction on stimulus lobbying:

Decisions about how Recovery Act dollars are spent will be based on the merits. Let me repeat that: Decisions about how Recovery money will be spent will be based on the merits.

They will not be made as a way of doing favors for lobbyists. Any lobbyist who wants to talk with a member of my administration about a particular Recovery Act project will have to submit their thoughts in writing, and we will post it on the Internet for all to see. If any member of my administration does meet with a lobbyist about a Recovery Act project, every American will be able to go online and see what that meeting was about. These are unprecedented restrictions that will help ensure that lobbyists don't stand in the way of our recovery.

These are great new rules, and any good government crusader would support them. The only question: why can't this be the standard for all executive branch lobbying?

The White House put out a memo today titled "Ensuring Responsible Spending of Recovery Act Funds." It provides details on the lobbying restrictions above. It also includes a funny little quirk -- I'll add that below.

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The memo says that executive departments "shall not approve or otherwise support funding for projects that are similar to those described in section 1604 of Division A of the Recovery Act." So what does section 1604 say? Here's what:

"[N]one of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this Act may be used by any State or local government, or any private entity, for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool."

So there's a casino-aquarium-zoo-golf-course-swimming-pool test in the stimulus. If a shovel-ready project is too much like any of those things, it must be stopped immediately. A playground? A community rec center? This could get hairy.

But in spirit, it's admirable. The White House is trying to stop government waste. In a similar vein, the memo also explains that they plan on publicly posting information on each stimulus project for 30 days before breaking ground, "in order to ensure adequate opportunity for public scrutiny." Not bad.

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