WASHINGTON — Influencing the government’s trade policy just became more difficult for the fashion industry’s cadre of lobbyists.
The White House issued a directive last week asking federal agencies to ban federally registered lobbyists from serving on advisory boards and commissions, a move that will force some retailers and apparel brands, as well as the industry’s trade associations, to rethink their lobbying strategies with Congress and the White House.
President Obama pledged during the campaign and his first days in office to “clean up” Washington by reducing the influence of big-money special interest groups in shaping policies that affect the entire country.
“The President recognizes that some lobbyists advocate for public interest goals shared by this administration,” Norm Eisen, special counsel to the President for ethics and government reform, said in the White House directive. “Nevertheless, the President made a commitment to the American people to reduce the influence of lobbyists in Washington out of a belief that lobbyists have too often in the past achieved disproportionate impact on government decision makers.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative said the agency, which shares jurisdiction with the Commerce Department over 16 industry trade advisory committees, or ITAC, plans to uphold the White House directive in February when their charters expire.
“We will not be appointing or reappointing members to our advisory committees who are registered lobbyists,” she said. “We have not yet evaluated all the appointees to all of our advisory committees to determine who are lobbyists, but we will be applying the directive to all levels of committees.”
That will leave company executives, academics and other nonregistered experts to serve on the advisory committees. A large percentage of the textile and apparel ITAC, which has 32 members, stand to be removed when the guidelines are enforced. The advisory committee includes registered lobbyists from three industry apparel and textile trade groups, as well as company executives from Levi Strauss & Co., Jockey International and Hanesbrands Inc.
“It means that folks in the industry who look to individuals in Washington to represent them…are going to find they no longer have a seat at the table or a voice in the room,” said Stephen Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, who chairs the committee and is a registered lobbyist. “I think what [the Obama administration] is doing is trying to follow the line of logic that says if you are a lobbyist you can’t serve in the administration, but I think they have reached an illogical conclusion.”
Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, a registered lobbyist, said the administration was “disenfranchising” the textile industry by the action.
“It means that textile representation is going to shrink to 10 percent of the ITAC as a result,” Johnson said. “Domestic manufacturing groups will now have to choose between representing themselves before Congress or the administration, but not both.”
Julia Hughes, senior vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, a registered lobbyist who would lose her post on a trade advisory committee on Africa, said, “I do think that the concept of wanting to encourage more companies rather than organizational reps is a good thing because companies bring to the table more in-depth information than anyone who is with an association could.” However, she doesn’t agree with a total ban on lobbyists because “it takes out of the advisory committee process too many people who have valuable advice to give to the agencies.”