Ask a Lobbyist: Managing Expectations

As we do every week, we're going to take a brief moment out of our daily irresponsible rumor-mongering and hand the keys over for a while to our very own Anonymous Lobbyist. She's available to answer any and all questions you may have -- just send 'em here [note: new address!].

This week, the Democratic Process is explained and then mocked. Same for the EU. All that and more important life lessons, after the jump.

Don't you feel at all shitty subverting the democratic process to benefit some faceless corporation?

I subvert the democratic process? There's a democratic process in this country? Are you joking? Do you read the papers? Sixty percent of Americans don't generally bother voting. When they do, they're voting for candidates that have been drawn into non-competitive districts by some state legislators they probably didn't bother voting for in order to capitalize on the fact that seniority in Congress buys more pork. And even if you take all of that away, most candidates even in primaries are chosen by a bunch of unelected local party fuck-ups who decide that someone's paid their dues/ for enough hookers to get a party nomination. Once a Congress member is elected, s/he rarely loses a reelection race regardless of his/her performance. It's not exactly the vision of our founding fathers up here even if I'm shuffling paper in a different job.

So, please. I walk around in high heels with folders full of paper and hope that my $5K semi-mandatory campaign contribution make a difference on some piece of legislation you probably won't even notice, competing for Congressional attention with 30,000 other lobbyists representing everything from big business to labor unions to anti-war activists to single-issue advocates left and right, and dodging the traffic from all the various legislative fly-in participants from the district. Nope, not bad at all.

Does a lobbyist work for just one company? Or do you often have conflicting interests? Do you get paid regardless of the outcome?

Except for the lobbyists that Believe in an issue, the rest of us salivate at the thought of getting paid regardless of outcome. Sadly, business lobbyists get paid by... business people, who expect that their money actually buys results. So we hem, and we haw, and we talk about process, but we're basically in the business of managing expectations and riding a piece of legislation as long as humanly possible. I would bet one of the most quoted myths in lobbying is that the average bill takes 5 years and 3 Congresses to pass. Who makes this shit up? Like any of us did the statistical analysis on that. But it's a great quote for the end of the fiscal year when the bill you've been working still hasn't passed.

Luckily, unlike lawyers, there aren't any laws or ethics codes laying out a conflict of interest for lobbyists. So, contract lobbyists can represent whomever they want and it's caveat emptor if you're buying their services. But, even if a contract lobbyist is representing only one side in a legislative fight, his primary interest is still going to be his ability to represent other clients -- he's not going to fall on his sword for your issue.

Are lobbyists as bad in every other country as they are here?

Hmm. I can't think of a country in which I'd be required to register with the government or file publicly available reports twice a year identifying myself, my employer, my policy interests and to whom I'm speaking. In fact, in the EU, the best they've got is a self-regulating lobbyist association and some "Transparency Initiative". In fact, in the vaunted liberal EU, sometimes they set their own friends up as lobbyists and pay them with government money (though they claim it's to counter the business lobbyists). In other countries, lobbying is more like the old days in the U.S., in that it's all old men and friend-of-friends and completely non-transparent.

So, define bad. In my opinion, we've got the most open, transparent and easily-crackable system in the world. I didn't have to come from money or campaign contributions, attend a certain college, be related to someone or spend years kissing ass as a staffer (though that latter part helped) to get a job in government affairs. On the other hand, I'm sure lobbyists in other countries are as money- hungry and amoral as I am, but they probably get paid better and don't have to file paperwork.

What should I study in college to become a lobbyist?

Let me take just a moment to encourage you to do something after your (presumably expensive) education to make your parents proud, which would not be lobbying. Your parents can't exactly go to the spaghetti dinner at the high school and gossip with your classmates' parents about their daughter the dirty lobbyist -- unless you went to high school with a bunch of kids who became strippers, unwed teen mothers and low-level pot dealers like I did, in which case your mom and my mom can totally go together and brag about how we only metaphorically prostitute ourselves.

That said, I strongly recommend using your time at college to build up your tolerance to alcohol and your ability to talk on message while blasted ("No, I really don't want to sleep with you"), making nice with people at parties and in bars that you don't know and probably wouldn't like and learning just enough to sound smart without getting too confused by things like ethics or objective truth.


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