Ask a Lobbyist: Cash and Causes
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: is saving the world worth the stress?
If Congressional staffers were offered comparable salaries to lobbyists, would you be persuaded to work on the Hill instead of K Street?
This is actually a tough question. I mean, I don't work as a lobbyist exclusively because the pay is a little higher than when I was a staffer (although, it is really a lot higher). I work as a lobbyist because I also get an expense account and the ability to let my utter disdain for and cynicism about our political system shine through when plotting how best to subvert it. I mean, as a staffer, you're basically indoctrinated with the whole "I'm serving my country, and it's a privilege" kind of bullshit, which you really do start to believe, because otherwise how can you justify being 24 and still eating Ramen every day the week before payday? Plus, everything you do is supposed to be for the good of the country or the district (or the Member's re-election, which, in the mind of the Member, is the same thing). So, on the Hill, it starts to feel all very hypocritical to be doing things that seem solely for the purpose of maximizing eventual votes and political contributions, and then a severe case of cynicism sets in and the Ramen noodles and your $24K a year get decidedly unappetizing. So, you cash out, and take your cynicism where it is both appreciated and highly paid- K Street.
On the other hand, who among us in the lobbyist caste doesn't dream of getting to be the person with the power? There's only so many meetings I can attend in one week with some snotty 22-year-old staffer whose ass I have to kiss before I want to be on the other side of the table and have my ass kissed by lobbyists (particularly the ones I don't like and find condescending). And it's a pretty hard call whether my boss's ego or a Congressman's ego is bigger at this point, so that concern is definitely mitigated. But, I'd still lack the expense account and constituents don't appreciate staff cynicism, so I'd probably have to stick with K Street.
On the other hand, the Administration seems pretty rife with cynicism about our system of government and the American electorate, let alone backstabbing and talking shit about your boss. So, if they paid better, I'd probably fit in pretty well over there, and I hear they're hiring. I wonder how bad White House jobs pay?
What type of work do you prefer doing: Working for a NGO with high ideals and a great mission for $100 an hour, or working for the Wall Street fat cats at $500 an hour?
Working for places with high ideals would probably have some sort of psychic or soul-redeeming benefits, I suppose, but it's got its downsides, too. Every time Congress rejects an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution or puts limits on abortion, some idealistic lobbyist sheds bitter, bitter tears, and then gives a reporter a snide or hyperbolic quote for publication. They don't only say those Chicken Little crap comments for the press attention (though, that is certainly a big benefit), they really do think and talk like that. Every legislative win is a Victory for Mankind, and every loss is the Defeat of All That is Right in America. It gets tiring listening to them spew their crap even when I'm drinking, actually.
But, more to the point, I kinda lack in ideals or a belief in a cause, so why would I willingly subject myself to those kinds of people on a daily basis, let alone for way less money than some Wall Street fat cat would pay me? I mean, seriously. I get through my day because I don't take any of this crap seriously, I know that my voice makes no difference in a legislative debate and I'm damn sure that, whether I win or lose, very little will change about my life or anyone else's. If I had to deal with actual important things or with people that took their jobs and issues super-seriously all the time, I'd drink way more than I already do and be stressed all the time. I don't thrive on the competition or the adrenaline of some stupid legislative push, I thrive on the fact that my job isn't that difficult or mentally taxing and that it supplements my liquor consumption and pays the rest of my bills. I deliberately don't work on "causes" because I don't want to, not because it pays less.