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Political Notebook

Lobbyists group lobbies for more oversight of industry

WASHINGTON - Washington lobbyists are making a strange request: more regulation of lobbying.

The main professional association for paid influencers, the American League of Lobbyists, is expected to call for tough new rules that would require more people to register as lobbyists with the House and Senate.

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Under current law, lobbyists can avoid registering if less than 20 percent of their time is spent contacting lawmakers’ offices or preparing for such activity. They also don’t need to register if they make fewer than two contacts for a client in one quarter.

The association’s proposal calls for eliminating the 20 percent threshold for lobbyists hired on contract and reducing it to 15 for a company’s in-house lobbyists, according to a draft. The group also favors mandatory ethics classes and creating a unit at the Justice Department to bolster compliance with the law, according to the draft.

The loophole has been used by such Washington figures as Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader who went on to work for the lobbying division of law firm Alston & Bird without registering as a lobbyist.

The lobbying organization’s goal is to increase transparency around lobbying and improve the public image of the business.

The move also comes in response to a raft of rules and regulations introduced by the Obama administration targeting registered lobbyists, which have caused some to avoid identifying themselves as lobbyists, according to the group. Obama signed an executive order on his first full day in office saying the administration would not hire anyone who had worked as a registered lobbyist within the past two years.

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“It’s a disincentive to register,’’ said Howard Marlowe, president of the league.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Obama’s new rules have been effective.

The Center for Responsive Politics found 12,633 people registered to lobby in 2011, but Marlowe estimated that an additional 5,000 to 10,000 people are lobbying without being registered.

WASHINGTON POST

Santorum stays on attack armed with Etch A Sketch

SAN ANTONIO - Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is still having fun with his Etch A Sketch.

Santorum waved the toy around during a Texas appearance Thursday and said it represents rival Mitt Romney’s lack of conservative convictions.

On Wednesday, a top Romney aide compared the transition from the primary campaign to the general election to an Etch A Sketch doodle toy, saying, “You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.’’

Romney’s opponents have seized on the remark to challenge his conservative credentials.

Santorum addressed employees of a San Antonio insurance company that serves military personnel. He said the Texas primary on May 29 will be key to deciding who wins the Republican presidential nomination.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Obama puts oil line in Okla. on fast track

CUSHING, Okla. - President Obama defended his record on oil drilling Thursday, ordering the government to fast-track an Oklahoma pipeline while accusing Congress of playing politics with a larger Canada-to-Gulf Coast project.

Obama said lawmakers refused to give his administration enough time to review the 1,170-mile Keystone XL pipeline in order to ensure that it wouldn’t compromise the health and safety of people living in surrounding areas.

“Unfortunately, Congress decided they wanted their own timeline,’’ Obama said. “Not the company, not the experts, but members of Congress who decided this might be a fun political issue decided to try to intervene and make it impossible for us to make an informed decision.’’

Facing fresh criticism from Republicans who blame him for gas prices near $4 a gallon, Obama said he was directing federal agencies to expedite the southern segment of the Keystone line. The 485-mile line will run from Cushing to refineries on the Gulf Coast in Texas, removing a critical bottleneck in the US oil transportation system. The directive would also apply to other pipelines that alleviate choke points.

“Anyone who says that we’re somehow suppressing domestic oil production isn’t paying attention,’’ Obama said.

Republicans said the moves were little more than a publicity stunt, asserting that it wouldn’t help TransCanada build the pipeline any sooner. Construction is expected to begin in June with completion next year.

Environmentalists were also critical of Obama’s move. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council said it was “downright foolhardy to cut corners on safety reviews for permitting’’ the Texas-to-Oklahoma line.

A spokesman for TransCanada said the company welcomed Obama’s support but couldn’t say whether his involvement would affect the timeline for completing the project.

The full Keystone pipeline became a political flashpoint last year when congressional Republicans wrote a provision forcing Obama to make a decision and environmental groups waged a campaign to kill the project. Obama delayed the project in January.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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