Are You Willing To Let Congress Legislate Away Your Right to Be Heard?
By: Paul A. Miller, President, National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics
I was asked recently why did we start the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics? The answer was pretty simple – we started NILE because this profession needs a voice more than ever today. As a profession we have long dug in and waited out any firestorm or attacks. For me that has always been the coward’s way out. If we are proud of what we do, which we all should be, then we need to stand up for our profession and be willing to speak out and set the record straight. Each election year the drum beat gets louder and louder to do something to curtail the lobbying profession. This year is no different. What is different is the number of pieces of legislation introduced in this Congress that seek to eliminate our profession and our ability to speak for our clients.
When it comes to lobbying we are already the most regulated profession, but we are also the most transparent. Every quarter lobbyists file with the federal government a list of who their clients are, the issues they work on and the amount they are being paid for these activities. Twice a year we file forms with the federal government that states who we have given campaign contributions to and how much. All this information is easily accessible to the public, yet we are seeing a bigger and bigger push in Congress to regulate the profession even more. Since 2015 there have been 144 different pieces of legislation introduced (that I have been able to identify) that either look to restrict your Constitutional right to petition your government or limit your ability to participate in the political process. I know what many of you are thinking – so what, none of these will become law. I will agree with you on that point, but what should concern you is the increased number of legislation that targets our profession. What other profession has 144 different voices trying to trample on you and your clients’ Constitutional right to petition their government? What other profession is Congress looking to make it basically illegal or a crime if you practice?
What should concern you even more is what’s in these 144 pieces of legislation. I have long believed that if there are loopholes or things that need to be changed in how we do business, then let’s sit down and have an open honest discussion about it and see what changes we can come up with. Yet, Congress never seems to take us up on this. I get it, they don’t want to be seen working with lobbyists on lobbying or campaign finance reform issues because the public will perceive it in a negative way. The reality is, if you want real reforms that work, then you need to have lobbyists at the table working with you, not against you. None of us are looking to create more loopholes. None of us want to relive the Abramoff scandal. I know it may be hard for some to believe, but we want to do whatever we can to ensure our profession lives by a Code of Ethics. In order to do that, we need to be willing to step up to the plate and be heard. Instead of staying quiet and letting candidates use us as a campaign issue, we need to be out front setting the record straight. The fact that some want to serve in Congress and yet they clearly have not read the Constitution needs to be pointed out. What we do is protected by the Constitution and a right given to every citizen in this country. Some in Congress would like to change that so that this right only applies to issues and interests they deem worthy.
What should concern you is that Congress is looking to legislate away your right to petition your government. The reality is, without lobbyists at all levels our government won’t work. Lobbyists provide the most basic information legislators need and can’t get. Lobbyists point out issues and areas of injustice that would otherwise go unaddressed. Lobbyists speak for those who haven’t had a voice. Yes, these are all special interests and another term we should all embrace. With so many issues and so many pieces of legislation being introduced each year, lobbyists play a critical role in providing a voice to those constituencies and serves as a filter to those in Congress who are not experts on these issues and need help weeding out the rhetoric from the facts.
Even lobbyists need lobbyists and why we have NILE. NILE gives all of us an opportunity as a profession to be heard. NILE offers all of us an organization who can stand up and defend our profession. I don’t know about you, but I take my job seriously. We abide by the NILE Code of Ethics and subscribe to their public-policy certificate program and its mission. If lobbying reform begins to dominate the debate or actions are taken to regulate us even more, it will be NILE who will be out front leading the charge for the profession. It will be NILE who will be front and center defending the profession.
This isn’t a pitch to join. This is a pitch for our profession to become more willing to stand up and stand together. We all know the valuable role we play in the process, but that role may diminish if we don’t stand together and work together to ensure that any future lobbying or campaign finance reforms are effective and necessary versus some arbitrary action to appease some voting block or public misperception. This debate isn’t going away and we need to be at the table early talking about our role and the rules we live by. We need to be honest with ourselves and point out flaws in the system when they occur and be willing to address them head on and fix them.
So, with only 99 days left before election day, let’s set a new professional standard and be engaged and willing to stand up for what do and the people we speak for. It’s not just us professionally impacted by any new reforms, but those who need to be heard. Let’s stop accepting the boogeyman role and expect better from ourselves and those in Congress who are elected to protect every citizen’s rights to petition their government.
We give those who want to limit or ban our rights only more power when were silent. Just as we engage in lobbying and grassroots campaigns on behalf of our clients and their issues, we need to think in those terms when it comes to our own profession and livelihood.
This is why NILE exists!