ASAE today sent a letter to the White House from President & CEO John Graham CAE in response to a story in last weekend’s New York Times on the ongoing consideration of the Office of Government Ethics’ (OGE) proposed ethics rule.  The story said the Office of Government Ethics “is now weighing the response to the proposal it made last September.”  ASAE had submitted a letter to the editor from Graham but felt compelled to also communicate its concern to the White House.

The letter (which was addressed to Peter Rouse, Counselor to the President) defends association meetings from the depictions of them as social events where lobbyist try to curry favor with government officials.  Graham corrects the record by saying:

Trade association programs can be tremendously educational for government employees seeking a better understanding of industry concerns, best practices, new product developments and more. Communication between the government and private sector also facilitates informed policymaking that spurs job creation and economic growth. It’s unfortunate when the value of these types of meetings is diminished in the name of ethics reform, and even more troubling when misperceptions about the nature of trade association meetings are perpetuated in the media.

The letter goes on to reiterate government data on associations that Graham and other association leaders had used in a January meeting with the White House Counsel’s Office.  ASAE’s research of Form 990 returns filed by membership organizations shows that trade associations and professional societies both spend far more on educationalprogramming than on lobbying.  The average trade association in 2009 spent nearly $1.2 million on program activity and just $66,400 on lobbying while professional societies that same year spent about $1.5 million on education and roughly $65,000 on lobbying.

Graham concludes the letter by reiterating ASAE’s original ask on the issue:

Albeit well-intentioned, OGE’s proposed rule unquestionably hinders information-sharing between the federal government and the private sector. We remain hopeful that the Administration will either shelve the proposed rule entirely, or modify the rule to include trade associations among the other types of organizations exempted from the rule (including professional societies, charities, scientific organizations and learned societies).

Read the letter in its entirety here.

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