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NRF asks Obama to reconsider new ban on registered lobbyists serving on committees
09
Oct '09
The National Retail Federation asked President Obama to reconsider a new ban on registered lobbyists serving on committees created by Congress that advise the Administration on international trade policy issues.

“A primary reason the Administration has identified for instituting this policy is purportedly to reduce the influence of 'special interests' in Washington,” NRF Vice President and International Trade Counsel Erik Autor said. “This claim begs the questions of how does one define 'the public interest' in trade policy and why would inclusion on trade advisory committees of public policy advocate representing all sectors of the U.S. economy be inimical with the public interest however it is defined?”

“If the concern is to ensure the inclusiveness of the committees in order to advance the public interest, then the answer is to broaden – not restrict – participation in them,” Autor said. Given that the committees are only advisory and have no decision-making power, “it is truly puzzling to suppose that including registered lobbyists in this mechanism would make Administration officials unduly vulnerable to the 'corrupting influence of special interests.' ”

Autor's comments came in a letter sent today to President Obama and copied to congressional leadership.

Autor is vice chairman of the 12-member Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Distribution Services, one of 16 Industry Trade Advisory Committees created under the Trade Act of 1974, and has served on the panel for 10 years. The committees consist of representatives of companies and trade associations in a wide variety of industries involved with international trade and are administered jointly by the Commerce Department and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The Obama Administration announced September 23 that it intended to ban federally registered lobbyists from the committees, and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk made it official on Wednesday in a memo to committee members. Autor and other registered lobbyists will be required to step down in February, when the panels are scheduled to be rechartered.

Autor disputed Kirk's contention that removing trade association lobbyists from the committees would allow more small businesses to have a voice in international trade issues. Most small business owners don't have the technical expertise to advise policymakers and rely on experts at their trade associations to do so on their behalf, Autor said. Most also can't afford the travel costs or time away from their businesses to come to Washington to participate, he said. NRF members include hundreds of small stores and NRF speaks on behalf on an industry that includes more than one million small businesses.

“Excluding industry trade association representatives from participation on trade advisory committees will result in large companies dominating industry viewpoints, and the voice of small business through their industry trade associations, who are able to provide viewpoints from the perspective of an entire industry, will be largely eliminated,” Autor said. Even individual companies may lack the expertise of trade associations, so substituting them for associations means the quality of advice received from the committees will be “substantially diminished.”

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