Lobbying or Lying?

handshakeGrowing up, as I became more aware of the political process, the terms “lobbyist” and “lobbying” would frequently crop up- and always with a negative connotation. For a long time, I thought lobbying was a four-letter word, and all the dirt bags out there doing whatever  dirty lobbyist do, were just a bunch of corrupt cronnies.

Fortunately, thanks to the marvels of higher education, I have had not only learned what lobbying really is, but have also had the opportunity to lobby in the Connecticut & Pennsylvania state Legislatures, as well as in D.C.

So what is lobbying? Who lobbies? What role does money play? Are there any honest lobbyists out there?

From Wikipedia (I can do that because they were declared accurate today):

Lobbying is the practice of influencing decisions made by government. It includes all attempts to influence legislators and officials, whether by other legislators, constituents, or organized groups.

So what exactly does this look like?

Well, if you call your representative and advocate for legalizing marijuana- you are lobbying; if you and your local church group put on a public forum about homelessness and invite city council members to attend- you are lobbying; and if you go to congress and meet with legislators & their staff to talk about legislation- you are lobbying.

So why the bad rap? Unfortunately, when Enron calls their Representative and speaks against financial disclosure rules- they too are lobbying; when Lehman Brothers whisper into the ears of senators against financial regulations- they are also lobbying; and when {evil corporation here} wines and dines legislators in exchange for votes, they are lobbying- albeit unscrupulously.

So are there honest lobbyists? Sure. Every lobbyist has a job to do, and that is simply to try to convince an elected official to take some sort of action- usually of benefit to the group of people whom the lobbyist represents. So just because the NRA might work for lax gun restrictions- it doesn’t mean they are doing something wrong. On the contrary, they are taking advantage of a fundamental democratic right on behalf of their members.

The fact that there is likely just as much illegitimate lobbying as legitimate lobbying, is all the more reason why ordinary folks and organizations need to get out there and lobby! We need to take full advantage of the fact that our taxes pay the salary of legislators to listen to and serve us. After all, if Bank of America is talking with Dodd about what they want, so too, should small community banks. And if GM is talking with Pelosi about what they want, so too, should the Auto Workers Union.

Lobbying, for the most part, isn’t about lying, or bribing, or deceiving. It is about communicating in an organized fashion, a set of central ideas or beliefs, or requests that an organized constituency has. For instance, when the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania lobbied in D.C. today for increased housing funding- it was because we believe our efforts might be of benefit to low income home owners, renters, and the homeless.

The Obama administration recently laid out strict new rules about lobbying:

The rules restrict political appointees who leave the administration from lobbying former friends and colleagues for at least two years and ban those coming on board from working on matters they previously lobbied on or approaching agencies they once targeted. In addition, no member of the administration will be allowed to accept gifts of any size from lobbyists. And all staff members must attend an ethics briefing.

So next time you have the opportunity to write, phone, or visit with a legislator- take full advantage of the moment!

Take action & lobby for change!



2 Responses

  1. Like the new layout of your blog!great post,with a lot of meat to chew on here!

  2. hey to the wire!

    i hope you got filled up!

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