POLITICS

Is it Bob Bennett’s constitutional right to be a lobbyist?

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney,Lobbying

No one ever doubted Sen. Bob Bennett would become a lobbyist — he was, after all, a pro-pork, pro-bailout moderate senator. No one is surprised Bennett defends his lobbying. But his constitutional interpretation is certainly subject to criticism.

The AP interviewed Bennett as his two-year “cooling-off” period ends, and he is now allowed to start making lobbying contacts with his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate.

He now calls the two-year ban a “really bad idea” and part of the “let’s-punish-politicians-for-being-politicians attitude.”

“Lobbying is a constitutionally sanctioned activity, right in the First Amendment next to the freedom of the press,” Bennett told the Tribune. “I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t exercise my constitutional rights.”

The cooling off period is not about punishing politicians for being politicians. It’s mostly about trying to increase the likelihood that our public officials are serving their constituents rather than future potential employers.

But here’s the legal question: Does Bob Bennett, as a former U.S. Senator, have a constitutional right to lobby? The 1st Amendment protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So, if Congress blocked Boeing from lobbying, that would be unconstutional. If you blocked Bob Bennett from calling his congressman in, presumably, Virginia, that would be unconstitutional. But does the First Amendment guarantee the right of people to make money petitioning the government on someone else’s behalf? That’s what Bennett proposes.

I’m interested in the 1st Amendment question, because I am open to a lifetime ban on all congressmen, senators, and cabinet members engaging in lobbying activity.

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