This is a somewhat interesting piece in the AJC recently.
But, this little editorial-like post is less about the article and more discussing (i.e. initiating debate over) the recent Anti-Lobbyist sentiment that has been spreading like wildfire in Washington, and in legislatures around the U.S.
Lobbying reform is not something that just came to be since the recent scandals in which popular lobbyists such as Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, et al are associated. The idea of “reforming” lobbying is something that has been around since the idea of lobbying itself originated, which by the way, is an idea that is embedded in the U.S. Constitution.
However, when you take into consideration the ever-growing movement behind lobbying reform, and the anti-lobbyist sentiment that is increasing daily, it has to make you wonder what the future of “the right to petition one’s government” will be. This issue, combined with the barrage of media focus on scandals, earmarks, etc, is going to have drastic affects on the future of not only lobbying as a practice, but legislation in general, because if you don’t think that our legislation is GREATLY affected (and sometimes dictated) by lobbyists, then you are sadly mistaken.
So, what is the future of lobbying? My personal opinion is that the practice and profession of lobbying is not going to be affected a great deal by things like Jack Abramoff, scandals, media bias, etc. However, I do believe that the anti-lobbying issue is (like many issues) cyclical – it has times where it seems like everyone in the world is anti-lobbyists and that the profession will be non-existent in a few months; and, then there are times when lobbying proves to be the most profitable business and ROI strategy out there (which usually leads to a scandal, b/c it’s easy to get sloppy, thus, returning back to the other end of the cycle).
With that being said, could the most recent lobbying scandals and subsequent proposals for reform, all of which are supposedly unprecedented, prove to lead the way to permanent changes? Perhaps the practice of lobbying in general will still be around, but will there be any in-depth changes to that practice?
What will this do for fundraising, including campaign finance, and reform therein? How will the anti-lobbyist sentiment affect candidates for office and PACS (i.e. Ralph Reed, Duke Cunningham, etc) What about earmarks? How will this affect the drafting and passing of legislation (most of which is done by lobbyists)? Are 21 yr old House staffers who make $25K a year really going to be the ones who draft our legislation, or perhaps it will be the actual Members of Congress who sit down with their assistant and pen & paper who pull an all-nighter to draft legislation for a boys camp (anyone know that reference)?
In a day when we can’t even pick up a newspaper without reading some sort of story about how lobbyists are here to take over the world, these are all important questions to consider.
One other factor is that of the unknown, meaning, what does the public really know about lobbyists. The word “lobbyist” itself has a bad connotation already – much like that of lawyers years ago. But, what do people really know what lobbying is? When someone signs up for the NRA … out of the hundreds of thousands of NRA members, do they realize that, although they often think what they are getting out of that membership is a cool bumber sticker and a magazine subscription, in reality they are funding the Institute for Legislative Action or maybe even the Political Victory Fund? So, when Joe Rural Guy in Plains, GA complains that this Abramoff fella’ is ruining democracy, perhaps he should remember that his $700 (or whatever it is now) life membership fee went a long way towards hiring the top lobbyists in Washington to do whatever it takes to defeat any legislation that places a threat on 2nd Amendment Rights. Or, to flip the situation … the many NARAL or EMILY’S List supporters saying that the GOP’s close ties to lobbyists is threatening democracy should remember that those organizations have some of the most advanced lobbying operations on K Street; moreover, they too have had their strategies and methods questioned in the past.
The point here is not to say that the we should not join associations, because of the fact that they lobby – actually it’s the opposite. We SHOULD get involved with grassroots or advocacy organizations, many of which lobby just as much (if not more) than Michael Scanlon or Jack Abramoff ever did. The effectiveness of our government depends on people being involved in the development of policy. The purpose is also to say that before we call for the heads of all lobbyists out there, perhaps we should think about the organizations we work for, the industries we are in, the social and political groups with which we are involved, and any elements of our socio-political activities, all of which most likely play some sort of role in policy development; therefore, making us all advocates in some shape, form, or fashion.
Either way, this is an interesting debate, and will continue to be an issue that we are forced to address in future elections, legal situations, and news. Moreover, we in Georgia are forced to address this issue in some way or another this year, seeing that we have at least one statewide candidate that has been a registered lobbyist in the past, and another that is directly associated with the current lobbying scandal, not to mention the countless lawmakers in the State who have had some sort of association with lobbyists.
So, are lobbyists a threat to democracy? Is Lobbying Reform or Earmark Reform a good idea? Will it solve the problem, or simply serve as a minor hinderance? Will lobbyists be affected at all by the current sentiment and negative focus? Should there be any restrictions at all? Should we be allowed to influence (i.e. advocate to) the government any way we want, and the stronger, wealthier group/individual be the victor? Sound off …