WASHINGTON (AP) -- If the government is your boss, you shouldn't be lobbying it.
That's the argument critics are using against General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, which have continued lobbying while being kept alive, in part, with $80 billion in federal aid.
GM is under bankruptcy protection and is expected to be 60 percent owned by taxpayers when it emerges. Chrysler left bankruptcy last week under a plan that was giving federal taxpayers an 8 percent ownership share.
"Given the government's ownership, the lobbyists are in essence working for the government," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer group. "The government ought to be able to tell them, 'Do what we say because we are you.'"
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, cited the recent experiences of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Both huge mortgage companies have been functioning with federal aid since almost collapsing last autumn after agreeing to stop all lobbying.
If administration officials are "not going to be consistent in applying these rules across the board, they should have to explain how this is different," Krumholz said.
Norm Eisen, the White House ethics counselor who has advised President Barack Obama during his efforts to curb lobbyists' influence, did not respond to several requests for comment.
GM and Chrysler have reduced their lobbying expenditures this year. GM terminated contracts with all 15 private lobbying firms it has been using while retaining its in-house lobbyists. Ford Motor Co., which has not accepted federal bailout funds, has slightly trimmed its lobbying budget this year.
"We believe we have an obligation to remain engaged at the federal and state levels and to have our voice heard in the policymaking process," GM said in a statement, citing health care, environment and other issues.
Chrysler issued a similar statement, saying, "There continues to be significant demand for education and information regarding Chrysler from legislators and government officials."
The two automakers got support for their continued lobbying from an unlikely source: Longtime antagonist Joan Claybrook, the recently retired head of the consumer group Public Citizen.
"I do believe in the First Amendment and speaking your mind," she said. "If they don't have lobbyists expressing their point of view, who does it?"