WASHINGTON - Members of Congress wear lapel pins, and their staff and members of the media wear laminated credentials around their neck. Lobbyists now want their own badges for quick, unhindered access to the Capitol.
Lobbyists are growing frustrated with long lines at entrances and at delays from new security procedures, which were implemented after threats of terrorist attacks and anthrax-laced mail.
''When there's a meeting in an hour, the question then becomes whether you have to go through an elaborate process to participate in a public meeting or to walk through the halls of Congress,'' said Jim Albertine, president of the American League of Lobbyists.
Albertine and colleagues argue that given the frenetic pace of Congress, where meetings and hearings are called, canceled, and rescheduled unpredictably, lobbyists need unrestricted access to most parts of the Capitol building and to legislators' offices.
There is no formal proposal, and establishing a new credentialing system would take at least several weeks. Many public officials and agencies are expected to weigh in on the decision, including the architect of the Capitol, the Capitol Police, the Secret Service, the House and Senate leadership, and several congressional committees.
Groups that support efforts to change campaign finance are wary of the idea of special badges and special access for lobbyists.
''It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, because it separates lobbyists as special and separate from the average person,'' said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.
Lobbyists argue that the lack of access means that Congress is less informed. ''Members of Congress know that you have to talk to lobbyists because nobody knows their issue as well as they do,'' said John Haddow, vice president of the lobbying firm of Parry, Romani, DeConcini and Symms. Haddow worked as legislative director for Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, from 1976 to 1983.
Albertine argued that the current security restrictions could increase the power of the wealthiest special interests, and leave other groups that are less well-funded - such as lobbyists for consumers, the elderly, or environmental interests - out in the cold.
The current measures have created a two-tiered world for lobbying firms, between groups who employ former members and those that do not. Former legislators face few access restrictions. Haddow said that when he goes to Capitol Hill with other members of his firm, such as former Senator Dennis DeConcini, the Arizona Democrat, he is waved through security checkpoints. Alone, he has much less access and far longer delays.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company