By: Paul A. Miller, President – National Institute For Lobbying & Ethics
On Monday, Politico published an article titled “Mack angers GOP lawmakers with Puerto Rico lobbying”. On its surface you would assume this was just many of the campaigns waged in Washington for or against an issue, but this article is so much more. This article is why so many people are afraid to identify as “lobbyists” today.
Those of us in the lobbying profession have always accepted that we would never make the public’s most popular professions list, but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for the gutter either. This is an honorable profession that gets set back when we have instances like this. This incident only makes it harder for the rest of us to do our jobs and represent our members or clients without scrutiny always hanging over our heads. The “lobbying” profession is no different than any other. We have our bad actors just like everyone else. The problem is, our bad actors make headlines because their unethical behavior (or scandal) sells stories that people want to read about. You will never see a front page headline about a lobbyist who has done something positive – the public doesn’t care about that and that is not news today. Washington scandal always intrigues people in and outside the Beltway.
Former Congressman Connie Mack has been around Washington long enough to know where the ethical line is. You really don’t need to be a genius to know, you just need common sense. The problem that this story points out is, it appears former Congressman Mack didn’t care that he was misleading Congress and the public. This appears to be another Washington story of winning at all costs. Most in Washington will dismiss the story as just another instance of poor judgement. The problem with that is it means we simply are accepting this type of behavior. I cannot sit by and simply dismiss it. This story should be a troubling scenario for all of us. Lobbyists have always been easy prey for candidates and the public who want and need to blame someone for all the problems in Washington. This story is a reason why it’s so easy for us to be the scapegoat. As a profession we need to do more to call out these bad actors. At times it will be painful, but in the long run it will be good for all of us. At times it will seem like a daunting task, but in the end it will be worth it.
One of the very first lessons I learned when I joined this profession was that your word is your currency. If people can trust you and trust the information you are providing them is legit, you will have a long career. The moment a member of Congress or President can’t trust you or the information you provide them is the day you will find yourself out in the cold and a liability to your members or clients.
Mr. Mack’s actions might not seem like much, but they really are a big deal. His actions misled Congress and the public. We cannot be a profession that lives by a motto of win at all costs. We all need to live by a code of ethics and take our jobs seriously. This can’t be a profession that looks to do anything it can to win a campaign. When we take actions like Mr. Mack, we live up to the low perceptions the public has of us. This type of questionable campaign labels all of us and it is a label I am not willing to accept. I like so many of you have worked way too hard to build a strong ethical reputation of doing this job the right way for our members and clients. I don’t plan to sit back and let a bad actor ruin that. I for one do not condone Mr. Mack’s activity and hope more of my fellow professionals will join me in striving to weed out the bad actors.