Why should taxpayer dollars be used to finance the lobbying efforts of public interest groups and major corporations? The Office of Management and Budget argues that such funds should not be so used - either to win new federal grants or to advocate particular political or social positions in the case of nonprofit groups, or to win contracts in the case of defense manufacturers or other businesses dealing with the federal government. To ensure that such funds are not so used, the OMB has proposed new federal regulations that would sharply restrict the ability of organizations to charge the costs of lobbying work to Uncle Sam.
Not surprisingly, a storm of outrage has gone up over the issue from both citizen action groups dealing with such subjects as civil rights and landlord-tenant relations and the American business community and defense contractors. ''Every nose at the (federal) trough is now coalescing on this issue,'' laments one OMB official.
The proposed rules are now open for a 45-day period of public comment. Under the new proposals, nonprofit groups or business firms receiving federal monies could not use their offices for lobbying efforts unless the lobbying took up less than 5 percent of the office space of the group receiving the grant. Officials whose salaries are from federal funds could not lobby on company time.
There are intricate legal questions involved that will need careful sorting out, such as, for example, what constitutes legitimate lobbying by an official on noncompany time. The proposals do not go as far as right-wing groups had wanted. The political right has long sought such a restriction to prevent what spokesmen argue is widespread political advocacy by welfare, civil rights, and poverty groups using taxpayer monies. Some right-wing groups have sought to ban awarding of any funds whatsoever to nonprofit groups engaging in political advocacy.
The new regulations, by contrast, would retain First Amendment rights. Officials could continue to lobby as much as in the past. The difference would be that they would have to do it on their own time and using private funds.
The proposals deserve consideration.