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!



An Abortion Joke

abortionrex_228x300I have a joke for you:

A distraught women walks into an abortion clinic. Due to (insert her reason here), she had finally decided to go through with the procedure.

The Doctor, about to preform the procedure says to her: “You know, you’re about to kill a baby right?”

The women, visibly upset looks at the doctor. She can’t believe the words coming out of his mouth.

Unperturbed, he continues “I’ll do this if you want, but you should know that you are probably going to commit suicide afterwords?”

Horrified, the women runs out of the clinic, in search of a more compassionate doctor.

Funny huh?

Actually, in retrospect, that joke wasn’t really that funny. In fact, its kind of insensitive. I’m not sure what possessed me to write it. Maybe it was the article I read in Newsweek today, detailing a STATE SANCTIONED SCRIPT doctors in South Dakota must read to women before performing an abortion.

That’s right. The government has mandated that medical professionals must read a pre-determined script to all females seeking an abortion.  Among other things, the doctor is required to warn the woman that she is about to:

terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being with whom she has an existing relationship…the procedure brings statistically significant risks, including increased risk of suicidal ideation or suicide

To say the least, this script is dubious in fact and heavily value laden. No amount of interpretation on my end can do justice to the critique of this egregious and audacious policy that is necessary.

I’m dumbfounded and at a loss for words.


Policies for People

kids-diverseWhat’s a president to do? War, crime, poverty, education system, veterans benefits, social security,  human rights, Guantanamo bay, financial crisis, blight, sprawl, child abuse, elder abuse, animal abuse, cronyism, corruption,  war profiteerism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, nuclear weapons, chemical warfare, suicide bombings, school shootings, blood diamonds, genocide, Israel/Palestine, Russia/Georgia, India/Pakistan, Iraq/Iran, North Korea/South Korea, child soldiers, slavery, sex trafficking, drugs, guns, health care, welfare, Chinese goods, missile defense systems, guided missile systems, Africa….

This is the world we live in, and for most of us, more often the world we indirectly observe…I asked readers before what the next president ought to focus on, and I’ve made humorous suggestions. But as Obama begins putting together his next administration, the time for surveys and satire are no longer enough. Here begins an Agenda for America* that I will forward to the President Elect after refinement and further exploration:

In 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote a paper entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation”; out of this paper came the famed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For those unfamiliar, Maslow theorized that human behavior exists along a continuum motivated and influenced by individual needs. He suggested that as basic needs are met, people are able to move on towards securing the next set of needs. Here is a graphic representation:


I believe that there is merit to Maslow’s ideas, and since: 1-The principle role of the government is to provide for the safety and security of its people, and 2- The government made a promise that all have a right to pursue “life, liberty, and happiness”, I would argue that there is a compelling reason for the government to center its priorities around helping Americans secure their essential needs, while also providing a national environment where the pursuit of higher needs is actively supported.

*This Plan is Primarily Domestic in Nature

Policies for Physiological Needs:

These policies should be designed to ensure the stable and equitable distribution of food, water, and shelter.


The National Housing Trust Fund, which will be used for the production and repair of affordable housing, has its funding source currently tied to Sallie Mae & Freddie Mac revenues. A more secure funding source should be directed towards this Trust Fund, so that as the economy falls and home sales diminish, more, not less money is invested in housing.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program is one step in the right direction designed to provide immediate relief to troubled states, but the funding should paid on an annual basis, as opposed to a one time payment.

In urban centers, fighting urban blight is an essential component towards creating stable neighborhoods and livable environments. Further, the administration shall adopt a policy to end homelessness that will be vigorously pursued regardless of cost. Part of this strategy should include the construction of more shelters, assisted living facilities, transitional housing, supportive housing and other special needs housing units in accordance with need in distinct geographic tracts.

Additional Low Income Housing Tax Credits shall be dispersed by the government to aid in the construction of affordable housing developments. Serious regulation shall be put on the lending and finance industry, and a pragmatic look needs to be taken at eviction and foreclosure regulations.

Existing affordable housing programs such as Section 8 should be increased in scope, and areas with the longest list of eligible applicants for affordable housing should receive priority funding through the National Housing Trust Fund.


The government should charge the FDA with establishing a basic, healthy, and sustainable diet plans for various demographics of the population (elderly, children, etc). The costs of these sample meal plans shall be directly tied to food subsidies such as WIC and Food Stamps.

The FDA should also create a policy that imposes an internal tariff of sorts on the sale of unhealthy foods, while at the same time, creating incentives and policies that reduce the cost of healthy foods, fruits and vegetables. Additionally, tax breaks should be provided to food vendors to encourage the expansion of healthy food retailers into underserved communities.

The government should require states to set aside of pot of money to be distributed to food banks and soup kitchens in accordance with local needs.

Subsidies should be given to farmers where necessary to maintain stabilize food prices.


The government should engage in a vigorous review of anti-pollution & dumping laws, and impose stringent penalties on companies that violate established rules.

Policies should be pursued that encourage private investment in technologies that would make the conversion of saltwater into drinkable water less expensive.

In order to prepare for emergencies, each state should establish a federally supported food/water bank.

Building codes for temporary shelters (FEMA trailers, etc) should be revised to insure the safety & security of those who use them.

Policies for Safety & Security

These policies should be designed to ensure the safety of the individual and the nation.


Over a period of time, due to aggressive and progressive poverty reduction tactics, coupled with a myriad of other social supports, a strong education system, and more equitable distribution of income, we can expect to see crime rates fall. However, until that time, several policies should be undertaken.

An aggressive, evidence based model of rehabilitation should be employed for all incarcerated individuals. Gun control laws should be largely returned to the states, with the exception of a few basic federal regulations. This will allow for policies that make sense in different geographic regions to be implemented.

Stronger hate crime legislation should be enacted, and the Elder Abuse Act should be passed. Additionally, white-collar crime that impacts the public should be more vigorously investigated and prosecuted, with harsher penalties.

Discriminatory sentencing disparities should be eliminated- such as crack/cocaine laws. Further, a judicial review of the sentencing patterns of courts in capital and other criminal cases should be undertaken. Jurisdictions with conviction and sentencing patterns heavily skewed should be temporarily put under a moratorium, and plans should be established to reduce the disparities.


Employment is central to personal fulfillment for many people, and full, equitable employment will reduce the need for excessive social spending. Any individual who wants to work should be able to find work, and the government should put together a federal employment program for individuals out of work. This program should be modeled after the Tennessee Valley Authority Program (out of the Great Depression), with projects largely designed around infrastructure repair/creation. For other skill sets, the program should also include community building aspects.

A basic living wage should be established and required in metropolitan areas and states.


A universal health care system should be established which complies with the Institute of Medicines 5 Principles for Health Care Reform:

1- Health care coverage should be universal- it should cover everybody

2- Health care coverage should be continuous, portable from job to job, and regardless of employment status.

3- Health care coverage should be affordable to individuals and families.

4- Health care insurance should be affordable and sustainable to society.

5- health care coverage should enhance health and well-being by promoting access to high-quality care that is effective, efficient, safe, timely, patient-centered, and equitable.

Under this plan, the following services should be covered: hospitals, health facilities, health care professionals, physicians, labs, diagnostic imaging, dentistry, medication, vision, mental health, preventative care, rehabilitation, durable medical equipment, eye glasses, hearing aids, immunizations, blood, dialysis, home health care, emergency care, podiatry, long term care, chiropractic, adult day care, substance abuse, nursing facilities, ambulance transport, language interpretation and hospice care (modeled after California One Care).

Additional funding for scientific research of diseases, and related health studies (including stem-cell research), should be supported.


Family planning services should be made available at public health centers, and laws protecting the right for women to have an abortion should be put in place. Child care should be made available for all children through the age of 16. This can be accomplished by the establishment of federally funded child care centers with affordable rates, or for families that live in areas without a federal child care center, vouchers should be offered for use at private day care centers.

The federal government should establish the right for individuals with children under the age of 18 to take up to 12 paid “family” days per year.


In order to protect individual’s right to property, more stringent burdens must be placed on any governmental entity that would seek to take over private property though eminent domain. Private property owners who allow their property to sit vacant, used, abandoned, or blighted for longer than an established period of time, may have their property co-opted by local land banks for the purpose of building affordable housing. Compensation for this seizure shall be at a rate below market value.

Areas currently established as Native American reservations should have legislation forever maintaining that status. Funding for the upkeep of such properties shall be allocated annually by the federal government.

Individuals who purchase manufactured housing and reside in a mobile home park shall be given a deed to the land upon which their home rests. This will prevent the sale of these parks for private development and eviction of tenants without just compensation.


The Department of Defense, originally named the Department of War, should be re-designated as the the Department of International Relations. The department should develop plans for promoting peace and stable relations with foreign nations, as well as realistic defense protocols. This will immediately promote the safety and security of all Americans.

Policies for Self Fulfillment (Love, Belonging, Self-esteem, Self-actualization)

After basic needs for survival are obtained, human beings seek to progress and develop. These developments include: inclusion in a welcoming community, self-esteem, and eventual development of one’s full potential. The following policies should aid American’s in their obtainment of these needs.


Every child in America shall be guaranteed high quality education. All schools will be federally assessed on several levels: Physical condition/environment, Physical resources (books/facilities), Quality of Instruction,  & Educational Achievement. Unlike the punitive No-child left behind policy, this extensive review of all public schools will be used to allocate and redistribute resources among schools.

The practice funding of public schools with local properties taxes shall be abolished and replaced with a state tax. The combined pool of taxes will be distributed to all schools within that state according to their needs as established by the aforementioned study.

Every state’s public universities and colleges shall be tuition free. Students may continue to receive grants, scholarships and loans to pay for related expenses: housing/books/transportation, etc. Universities will reimbursed for tuition by the state at a pre-established rate per student.

Community Development

The federal government should pass a law requiring certain community resources per a given population; i.e. for every “X” number of individuals in a city/town, “x” number of libraries, community centers, recreation centers, artistic venues, and other essential community resources should be available. The construction of such facilities should be considered an eligible project under the aforementioned government employment program. Priority for such jobs will be given to local residents.

Volunteer Programs

Funding for domestic volunteer programs such as Teach for America and AmeriCorps should be increased and widely publicized. Assistance for individuals who are unable to participate due to financial constraints should be eligible to apply for assistance for certain expenses such as airfare.

Civil Liberties

Defending the psychological safety of Americans is equally important as their physical security, so serious policies should be implemented to curb current practices.The oppressive Patriot Act shall be repealed, and policies such as domestic wiretapping should be closely monitored. The Terrorist Watch list, with nearly 1 million identified Americans should be seriously pared.

The Department of Homeland Security should be abolished, and fear inducing strategies such as the color-coded terror level system should be prohibited. The use of the military within the nation’s borders should cease, and domestic police forces should be closely monitored for abuse.

**This Agenda for America represents a rough sketch for how the United States government should actively work to ensure the safety and security of all Americans, while also promoting the ability for all to pursue life, liberty and happiness. I welcome comments and feedback before I forward this Agenda to the President Elect Obama.