Ask a Lobbyist: 100 Hour Party People
Every week, our Anonymous Lobbyist answers your questions about how laws get made and why they probably shouldn't. If you have a question about the dirty business of doing business in Washington, ask her.
This week: Lobbying as we know it threatened by empty promises of vague reforms!
Do you think Pelosi will follow through on her promises to pass anti-lobbyist legislation? If so, how will it affect your industry? Are you/ other lobbyists devoting a portion of your time to lobbying against this bill?
Technically, speaking, Pelosi's not talking about passing anti-lobbyist legislation. She wants to pass legislation to combat the Republican culture of corruption (though, it might have some effect on poor Billy Jefferson or little Alan Mollohan). Shit, wait, those were October's talking points. Um, yeah, it's all the lobbyists' faults. Congress members can't possibly be expected to resist our sweet, sweet enticements and totally sell out for $50 lunches. We need to quit that shit. Whatever.
Pelosi's bill (assuming she puts the same one in next year, which she's said she would) would mostly create more paperwork for lobbyists and reduce the money I have to/can spend on lunches and stuff. Other than that, not much changes. I mean, it's not like she wants her folks to stop meeting with union lobbyists, or AARP lobbyists, or the Sierra Club crowd (and if you think they don't buy lunches or sponsor trips, whoa, do you have another think coming). So, she can't make it too difficult on her enemies (without some insanely creative and possibly unconstitutional legislation) without also screwing her friends.
On the other hand, it's not like Mistress Fundraiser (whose slot as Minority Leader and now Speaker was bought on the back of her fundraising for Democratic candidates) is going to touch campaign finance reform with a ten foot pole. Most Americans couldn't probably care less whether I file reports quarterly or twice a year or whether they contain the names of everyone I met with (like, if I'm good at my job, pretty much everyone) or not, but what they'd probably like to see me prohibited from doing is turning over a $5,000 check at a fundraiser for what's basically an opportunity to talk to the Member in a small group setting. But it looks like I'll still be bending over and puckering up next year, regardless of "lobbying reform."
And, no, I haven't spent a single minute/dime lobbying against it. If it's just more paperwork and whatever, the bad press isn't really worth my time. I'll just take my lunch/booze expense account and use it to pay for another/better secretary to spend the hours tracking that shit. Of course, I can afford to do that. Other small trade associations and nonprofits (mostly on the left) that don't have the money to keep up with my spending now will still be equally screwed under Pelosi's reform plans, but that's not really my problem. If it's yours, well, you know who to contact.
I've always been interested, how do your colleagues and peers stack up with regard to job qualifications? What proportion of lobbyists are there due to contacts and background and which are just sociable, persuasive individuals with a vision of our political future. Oh and which are you?
The only job qualification one really needs to be a lobbyist is the ability to convince someone to hire you to be a lobbyist. Different employers/clients have different buttons that need pushing, but if you can convince them to hire you (particularly if you're completely unqualified), then you're probably qualified to spend your time convincing people to do stuff on the Hill.
On the one hand, there are definitely lobbyists around who are as stupid as the Members they are lobbying -- could be they worked someone's campaign back in the day, parlayed that into an L.A. position for a couple of years and then took off to make the real money, or because Daddy's a Member or whatever. Generally, those folks are one-trick ponies, doing earmarks or approps or a very discreet set of issues because they are completely unqualified to talk off script and need supervision.
Most of us, though, are former staffers (some who got there with connections and some who got there with shoe leather) who worked a variety of issues in a high-pressure environment for no money and know how to get from Cannon to Dirksen without seeing sunlight. So, it's still kinda contacts, but some of us do occasionally know what we're talking about. And some people are just issue-experts or company-men who are doing the lobbyist thing.
But very few people have a vision of our political future, other than your crazy-eyed gun/pro- or anti-abortion/no-taxes-ever lobbyists (whose only qualifications are their beliefs and willingness to get paid shitty) and the K Street assholes (who had to pledge eternal fealty to Grover). We're paid to pass or kill legislation, not to give a crap about higher ideals. You can't sell your soul to the devil and work for the greater good -- you really ought to read the fine print on that.