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
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
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.
Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture at OFW Law and is a registered lobbyist. firstname.lastname@example.org