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Transportation Department faces accusations of illegal lobbying over meme promoting Biden legislation

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The Department of Transportation was accused of violating the law after posting a "meme" to social media promoting President Joe Biden's Build Back Better legislation.

What are the details?

The Transportation Department published a meme on Friday of a man and woman texting each other from different places. The purpose of the meme was to promote Biden's Build Back Better legislation.

"What are you thinking about?" the woman in the meme asks the man.

"I'm thinking about how the new infrastructure law is going to make getting from place to place so much better over the next decade and how when combined with the Build Back Better Act, it will create millions of new jobs," the man responds.

"Same," the woman replies.

The meme promptly generated criticism alleging the Treasury Department was violating anti-lobbying laws that prevent executive branch agencies from promoting certain pending legislation.

  • "This appears to be lobbying. I didn't think federal agencies were allowed to be so blatant in promoting specific legislation. The Secretary of Transportation can, of course, but the DOT's official website? Seems unusual," one person said.
  • "[A]re our tax dollars seriously being used to fund propoganda? Are you aware, as employees of the Executibe (sic) Branch, you have no business commenting on pending legislation? Separation of Powers and all that," another person noted.
  • "The legislation has not passed both houses. You are lobbying, which is illegal," another person observed.

Are critics correct?

The Project On Government Oversight explains, "Executive branch officials and employees are uniquely situated to influence the legislative process given their proximity to and control over various government functions, which is why Congress has enacted legal bans explicitly restricting the lobbying of Congress by executive branch officials and agencies."

In fact, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 states:

No part of any funds appropriated in this or any other Act shall be used by an agency of the executive branch, other than for normal and recognized executive-legislative relationships, for publicity or propaganda purposes, and for the preparation, distribution or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, radio, television, or film presentation designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress, except in presentation to the Congress itself.

Such restrictions on "lobbying" by the executive branch have been in place for more than 100 years.

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