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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

LOBBYING FOR SOMETHING BETTER

"A lot of folks see the amounts of money that are being spent and the special interests that dominate and the lobbyists that always have access, and they say to themselves, maybe I don’t count."

Just about everyone has a bad impression of the term "lobbyist," an impression that many lobbyists seem to be working as hard as they can to support. Corruption in congress, earmarks, favor dealing, misuse of funds, and so on all seem to be linked to lobbyists handing out trips, cash, and rewards hoping to sway the opinion of a congressman.

The reality is, lobbyists are simply people hired to present a case to a congressman. They are usually skilled at persuasion and conversation, with access and the understanding how to contact and get some of a legislator's time, and are hired by people who have neither the time or access to do this themselves. A lobbyist is a representative, someone who pleads your cause to congress, and in that sense is a good thing.

The problem is so many seem to think that anything goes, and so many are given so much money and goodies to work with that they focus more on buying votes than persuasion. Trips to Bermuda for a "conference," gifts to to congressman or his staff, meals at fine restaurants and so on are all part of the method too many use - especially those representing very powerful and wealthy corporate clients.

Which is probably why President Obama promised in his administration he'd ban lobbyists from his administration and keep them out of the White House. The problem is, almost immediately he picked up former lobbyists to work in the White House, and got into sort of a jam when it was reported.

However, Keith Koffler has a different reaction to this than most. He doesn't have a problem with lobbyists in the White House:
My experience with lobbyists – and I got to know a lot of them during my work as a mainstream reporter – is that they become creatures of whoever they work for. Like all of us. Trade a Washington Redskin to the Dallas Cowboys, and he becomes a Dallas Cowboy.

So while bad things sometimes happen, most lobbyists that go to work in an administration put the administration first, not their once or future clients.
And that makes sense, they aren't activists or zealots, they're more salesmen. You hire them, they work for you, not because they're members of the Movement but because they are doing a job. However, as Koffler points out, President Obama has actually shut out lobbyists pretty well from working at the White House. And that's a problem:
What’s more, by keeping lobbyists out of the administration, Obama has lost one of the best sources of knowledge he could have about Washington’s issues and processes.

The main thing Obama would need to do to keep lobbyists from “tainting” his precious policymaking is to put a lobbyist mosquito net around the White House to keep them out. And that, the
Post makes clear, he has not done.
In order to argue a case, a lobbyist has to be pretty well versed in it and study the ins and outs. Plus, he'll be given plenty of reference material and support to answer questions with as he pleads his case. So that means they're typically quite well informed. But if they're working for a client, they're going to be trying to help that client, not the White House.

T.W. Farnam writes the Washington Post article Koffler references above, a piece about visitor logs and how many lobbyists. K Street, which was portrayed as a heart of corruption and influence peddling during the period Republicans controlled congress, has a steady and strong presence in the White House under Obama. Lobbyists with a connection to White House staff have easier access as well, which is not surprising.

The thing is, you can't get into the White House without permission and an appointment. So anyone who gets in was invited, not incidental or intruding. And the thousands of visits by lobbyists is not by accident, despite the White House claiming “unparalleled commitment to reforming Washington” and the claim that no other administration has released visitor logs (patently false).

Lobbying is a method of getting a group of people who have a cause they want to plead to the government access and a voice heard. The system its self isn't necessarily problematic, its that it so easily can be corrupted and corrupting. Those more willing to bend or break the rules are more likely to get what they want from venal, self-interested politicians, so more and more people tend to do that, and the term "lobbyist" has taken on a sort of stench. But if used carefully and wisely, they could be valuable assets.

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