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by Lisa A. Grimaldi | November 01, 2011

Several key industry groups are actively speaking out against the Office of Government Ethics' proposed expansion of the Lobbyists Gift Ban, which would keep federal employees from attending most events and exhibitions where their attendance is paid for by lobbying organizations.

The proposal, which was posted in the Federal Register on Sept. 13, would eliminate an exception to the current ban that permits federal employees and political appointees of the Executive Office Branch to participate in widely attended gatherings and to accept social invitations from lobbyists.

Among the groups that have expressed concern over the amendment is the Alex­andria, Va.-based Society of Government Meeting Profes­sionals. "These events provide learning experiences and networking opportunities," Charles Sadler, SGMP executive director and CEO, told M&C. "If federal employees can't attend, their connection to business gets cut off."

A release from the organization delineated its stance further: "SGMP does not oppose proposals that would eliminate a real source of corruption…Establishing more restrictive rules for gifts to government employees from lobbyists and their employers might be justifiable if there were a history of problems in such interactions and if the proposed remedies related to such problems. The OGE, however, has offered no examples or history to justify its proposal for such a radical demarcation line to be created between 'good' government and corporations and trade associations."

Steven Hacker, president of the Dallas-based International Association of Exhibitions and Events, responded in a statement, claiming, "This reckless intrusion into commerce, if adopted, would further isolate regulators from the industries they must understand. The learning and communications that routinely take place during trade events are among the most important ways that government officials and business leaders can exchange views and ideas.

"All responsible leaders of the business community…must view this latest attack by the federal government on business as a call to arms," Hacker continued. "We must come together to reject this absurd and potentially harmful set of rules or we will have only ourselves to blame."

Note: The OGE is accepting comments on the proposed amendments through Nov. 14 at usoge@oge.gov. All messages must be identified by RIN 3209–AA04, and in the subject line, include "'Proposed Amendments to Part 2635."