In defense of lobbying
By Marshall Matz
President-Elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama sure agree on one federal policy: Lobbyists Need Not Apply. That is unfortunate. While it may provide a good one-day sound bite, the policy eliminates a host of well qualified people from public service at a time when talented thinkers are desperately needed. Further, as pointed out by Open Secrets.com “there is a whole set of statutes, regulations and executive orders that define ethical boundaries for current and former government employees and appointees.”
Lobbyists have an institutional memory that is important in the drafting of legislation and the development of national policy. Lobbyists know the experts and key players in an area.
Lobbyists represent large numbers of people who are joined together by a trade association, public interest group or a single corporation enabling them to participate in the political process by representing their views. There are now more than 300 million Americans. It is not realistic for all of them to charge up Capitol Hill to Congress or meet with the various Departments of government. They need representation and that is what lobbyists do…they represent constituents, educate and, yes, try to make the case for their client or employer.
There are some 10,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. But some outside experts estimate the actual number might be closer to 100,000. Why is the business of lobbying thriving if they are held in such low regard? The answer is that there is a market need and lobbyists are effective at filling that need. They provide a valuable service allowing both private and public interests to be heard in the administration and the Congress. The lobbying business has grown even while lobbyists have become the focus of much criticism because they are effective and provide an important and legitimate service. Market forces are at work.
Lobbyists get their power from several sources:
- Historical knowledge of the substantive area, as most lobbyists have worked in government;
- The constituents they represent;
- Their personal credibility; and
- Yes, from participating in the campaign and fundraising process (for both Democrats and Republicans.)
To be sure, crooks like Jack Abramoff and the occasional bribe-taking Congressman smear the profession. The public hates inside influence peddling and sees the potential for abuse. So, as a registered lobbyist, I am happy to comply with registration requirements.
Just like doctors, attorneys, and teachers, the vast majority of lobbyists are professionals who provide an honest and important service.
Much of the negative focus on lobbying can be traced to the Watergate break-in during the Nixon Administration and the image of his henchmen carrying around bags of cash. (When our law firm moved to the Watergate with former Senator George McGovern, who was the Democratic nominee against President Nixon in 1972, the Senator put out a one sentence press release that said: “I sure hope no one breaks into my office this time.”)
Lobbying goes back a long way. In the 1880’s there were political cartoons complaining that the Senate was being influenced by “big money.”
This famous cartoon, called “Bosses of the Senate”, first published in 1889, depicts corporate interests-from steel, copper, oil, iron, sugar, tin, and coal to paper bags and salt-as giant money bags looming over the tiny senators at their desks in the Chamber.
The Obama-Trump policy banning lobbyists is having a real world and, I would argue, negative impact on the development of sound public policy. In 2009, the Obama ban on lobbyists prevented many qualified lobbyists from public interest, non-profit organizations, trade association and corporate lobbyists with a passion for public service from serving in his administration.
Lobbyists from non-profit organizations who work on the school nutrition and food stamp programs were kept from public service because of the Obama administration’s blanket ban on all lobbyists. These days, almost all Americans are represented by lobbyists in Washington. Many organizations represents farmers, the National Association of Manufacturers represents the business community; the National Congress of American Indians represents Tribes; AARP represents senior citizens; States have lobbyists as do nurses, teachers, homebuilders and even the motion picture industry. Banning all lobbyists and painting with such a broad brush is unfair to the individuals involved and deprives the country of valuable expertise. Just recently, Michael Torrey, a highly regarded agriculture expert and lobbyist resigned from the President-Elect Trump’s transition team issuing the following statement, in part:
Statement from Michael Torrey regarding the presidential transition process:
I was asked several months ago to serve as a volunteer to help ensure a smooth transition at USDA. I have provided assistance since that time because I believe strongly in the importance of USDA’s mission and the people it serves. USDA impacts every American household every day and its importance truly cannot be measured.
Throughout my time assisting the transition effort, I have adhered closely to the code of ethical conduct and confidentiality agreement that was provided to me. Each transition has their own policies for the involvement of registered lobbyists. When asked recently to terminate lobbying registration for clients whom I serve in order to continue my role with the transition, I respectfully resigned from my role.
In short, in an effort to reform the system and prevent a conflict of interest caused by a “revolving door” there is no need to throw out the good with the bad. Lobbyists can be vetted like other applicants for public service and individual determinations made.
The First Amendment of the Constitution protects our freedom of religion, freedom of the press and free speech. It also protects our right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The public needs advocates who can represent their free exercise of that right, and that is the role of the lobbyist. It is an honorable profession. The bottom line is that lobbyists should not have to give up the opportunity to work in any administration and serve the public. It is bad national policy.
Special thanks to Mr. Matz and Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc. for allowing us to reprint this very thoughtful piece! You can learn more about Agri-Pulse and view his original post here: http://www.agri-pulse.com/In-Defense-of-Lobbying-12192016.asp.