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White House loosens restrictions on lobbyists

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is loosening restrictions on lobbyists who want to serve on federal advisory boards, a White House official said on Tuesday, a setback to the president's efforts to tamp down special interest influence in Washington.

Obama came to office pledging to curtail the sway of lobbyists and banned lobbyists from serving on such panels, which guide government policy on a range of topics ranging from cancer to towing safety.

The president said he was doing so because the voices of paid representatives of interest groups were drowning out the views of ordinary citizens.

But many lobbyists felt they were being unfairly tarred by Obama's campaign to keep them out of public service. A lawsuit challenging the ban was initially dismissed, but a District of Columbia Circuit Court in January reinstated it.

A spokesperson for the White House Office of Management and Budget said the administration was revising its earlier guidance on lobbyists serving on federal advisory panels to clarify that lobbyists may now serve on such panels when they are representing the views of a particular group.

There are more than 1,000 federal advisory committees.

The head of a lobbying industry trade group called the change a positive step that will allow the government to draw on the expertise of people whose experience can be beneficial in making policy.

"We’re basically going back to allowing federally registered lobbyists to participate in these committees," said Monte Ward, the president of the Association of Government Relations Professionals.

The revision will affect the ability of numerous lobbyists who would like to serve on advisory committees, said a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case, Charles Rothfeld, of Mayer Brown.

"It is a significant change," he said.

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Bernard Orr)

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