If you want to talk to the government about stimulus money, you’ll have to fill in a form.  White House Broadens Communication Limit

The White House is bolstering its restrictions on lobbying for stimulus funds, expanding the ban on oral communications with administration officials to include not only federally registered lobbyists but also consultants and other individuals who seek to exert influence over the spending process.

The changes will ban oral communications between the administration and any individual trying to influence the federal agencies tasked with awarding money from the $787 billion economic recovery program. Communications must be in writing and will be posted on the Internet, according to a White House memorandum released Friday.

The administration’s restriction targets the period after competitive grant applications are submitted and before awards are made, with the goal of ensuring that competition for stimulus funds is based on merit alone.

Sounds like it levels the playing field by subjecting everyone to the same rules, right?  Another way to look at it is that it restricts everyone’s right to speak equally.

A clarification from Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform:

First, we will expand the restriction on oral communications to cover all persons, not just federally registered lobbyists.  For the first time, we will reach contacts not only by registered lobbyists but also by unregistered ones, as well as anyone else exerting influence on the process.  We concluded this was necessary under the unique circumstances of the stimulus program.

“Second, we will focus the restriction on oral communications to target the scenario where concerns about merit-based decision-making are greatest –after competitive grant applications are submitted and before awards are made. Once such applications are on file, the competition should be strictly on the merits. To that end, comments (unless initiated by an agency official) must be in writing and will be posted on the Internet for every American to see.

“Third, we will continue to require immediate internet disclosure of all other communications with registered lobbyists. If registered lobbyists have conversations or meetings before an application is filed, a form must be completed and posted to each agency’s website documenting the contact.”

It’s all about transparency and merit, they say, necessitated by the special circumstances of the stimulus.  Perhaps it’s about something else.  Mark Tapscott on inches and miles:

This is the Camel’s nose under the tent, being poked because of special circumstances. Let government restrict political expression – i.e. lobbying of government officials regarding policy – in one small, supposedly specialized area and not long after the specialized area starts expanding. Eventually, all political expression regarding all policy will become subject to government regulation.

More on this as it develops. And trust me, it will develop.

Especially with this Administration’s guiding philosophy of not letting a crisis go to waste.

H/T Instapundit