- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The right of the citizenry to petition their government for “redress of grievances” is older - much older - than the First Amendment to our Constitution, in which it was enshrined in 1791. Being able to peaceably oppose the sovereign was deemed so important when the barons confronted a displeased King John at Runnymede in 1215 that the right was incorporated expressly in the Magna Carta. The failure of a later English monarch, George III, to answer Colonial “petitions” was an enumerated reason for our own Declaration of Independence.

“Petitioning” government takes many forms and in the modern era often includes meetings between government officials and persons or entities affected by pending or current public policies. Although unknown to either the British barons eight centuries ago or to our Founding Fathers nearly six centuries later, “lobbying” is an essential part of petitioning the government. Meetings between those who make and administer laws and public policies and those affected by such policies are an important aspect of the public policy process. Not only can such input result in better legislation and regulations being formulated, but once they are implemented, continued interchange concerning how the laws and regulations are meeting expectations provides vital tools for legislators and administrators to adjust or fine-tune existing edicts.

Unfortunately, in today’s cynical, often poisoned political environment, meetings between government officials and “industry representatives” are not viewed as a productive tool by which government regulators can better understand the often complex and technical repercussions of their actions. Instead, such interchanges are characterized as suspicious or improper. And if a government official dares to indicate that he or she actually listened to such input and might to some extent even change his or her view, that official likely will be lambasted as having “sold out” or permitted himself to be corrupted by industry.

One example of the manner in which the media itself has fallen prey to the notion that input and dialogue between government and business is to be demonized rather than encouraged is playing out on the pages of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The Journal-Sentinel has become an aggressive advocate for government action to remove the chemical bisphenol A (more commonly known by its acronym, BPA) from the many products in which it has been used for more than 125 years. The newspaper’s advocacy mindset caused it to launch a Feb. 14 broadside against the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and its head, Lisa Jackson.

What exactly is the sin that has landed Ms. Jackson on the Milwaukee newspaper’s blacklist? She modified a position regarding BPA that she appeared to have taken during a public speech Sept. 29 in San Francisco. To make matters worse, at least in the eyes of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the EPA administrator may have softened her position based at least in some measure on data received from the chemical industry.

The most heinous aspect of all this for the Journal-Sentinel appears to have been a Dec. 22 White House meeting between Obama administration officials and representatives of the “chemical industry lobby.” That this administration - or any administration, for that matter - would be so pernicious as to allow industry representatives to educate government regulators and then to postpone regulatory action clearly does not sit well with the Milwaukee newspaper.

That a newspaper - itself a protected entity under the First Amendment - would so cavalierly and wrongly criticize the government for permitting a business to exercise a right guaranteed in the very same section of our Bill of Rights sadly illustrates the constitutional blinders worn by some in the media and in the “public interest” arena.

Laws drafted without input from individuals, businesses and local government rarely if ever achieve their intended purposes, and it would be well for the Journal-Sentinel and other news organizations to keep this fact and this constitutional guarantee in mind in the course of their news coverage. Neither this nor any administration, nor any outside interest entity should be criticized for communicating with one another on matters affecting the American public. After all, isn’t that precisely how our Founders envisioned and intended for our representative democracy to work?

Bob Barr represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and currently practices law in Atlanta. Laura Murphy is director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office.

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