Ask A Lobbyist: Portrait Of The Lobbyist As A Big-Haired Young Woman
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: New lobbyists are disabused of optimism they didn't even know they had.
As a result of the November election, I am just starting a new job working as a lobbyist for a Fortune 100 company. Got any advice for those making the trip from Capitol Hill to the Lobbying world for the first time?
Yeah, sure. For one, you know all those Hill people you used to pal around/split bar tabs with? Get ready to start picking up the tab, buddy, because they all think you're making over $200K (even if you aren't). And, with the new ethics rules, you can't expense that shit (or claim it as an unreimbursed business expense on your taxes), which sucks.
Oh, and you know how all us lobbyists used to come in and kiss your ass and contribute to your overall sense of special-ness and importance? Even though we were often older and made more money than you? Yeah, well, you're one of us now, so get ready to pucker up and start kissing the asses of people you don't like and used to make fun of. That's the job -- you don't get to not like anyone anymore and, more importantly, you don't get to be disliked. As (I assume) a Republican in a now Democratic world, you get to work extra hard to show people that politics may be politics, but business is business. Think McDermott's a Communist? Too bad, go make nice with his tax guy, because he's fourth in seniority on Ways and Means.
Even worse, you get to go to your friends as a paid supplicant asking for stuff, or trying to convince them of stuff; it's a complete power shift, and it ain't always pretty. Used to go drinking with Brady's LA and then rag on him later in public about drunken shenanigans? Was he the Mikey to your Trent? Better learn how to play off mistaken games of peekaboo at diners and start kissing that guy's ass, because he's the cool one now.
The trade-off for that really nice Fortune 100 lobbyist salary is that you stopped being of minor importance in the Hill-osphere, and you're now a small fish in a bigger pond. Politics is all well and good, but office politics will kill you every time. I guarantee some of your new colleagues have an over/under on when you'll go running back to the Hill, particularly if you've under 35, political, and think you're hot shit.
I imagined that lobbying was all about in-person presentation. How much of your time is spent writing? How much in meetings?
Much of lobbying is about face-to-face presentation, but anyone you're lobbying sees at least five pitches a day and often more, so every lobbyist has a leave-behind. While some lobbyists may have desk jockeys to write for them, most of us either do the desk time ourselves or start off as a desk jockeys (especially those of us waiting out our mandatory cooling-off period). I usually prepare my own stuff for lobbying visits, as I'm better at pitching something I've written, and editing something that someone very junior has written so that it's in the appropriate content and tone is usually more trouble or time than doing it myself.
On the other hand, whether it's because of time factors or a high prevalence of ADHD among staff/politicians, you'll rarely get someone to read (let alone save) something more than one page, so it's not like I'm writing these huge briefing papers. The occasional letter, thank you note, or one-page briefing paper is it for Congressional audiences, thankfully.
For internal audiences, however, I have to write all the time. Since nothing ever really happens in Congress, I have to justify my existence/salary to some business person by explaining how hard I'm working even though nothing's happening. While there may be the occasional sit-down meeting, presentation, or fly-in speech to give to those audiences, it's mostly writing background papers, preparing stupid briefing binders that they never read, and writing "Write Your Congress Member!" pieces that they don't take action on anyway.
You seem to have a rather bulletproof personality. Was this acquired on the job, or has it always been your general nature? I ask, as I am wondering what, if anything, you have encountered in Washington has been a source of profound disillusionment?
Well, it didn't come from the career, though aspects of it may have come from certain crappy jobs, but I can't claim to have been bulletproof all along either. I mean, who my age didn't rock this look at least once? You only do that if you care what people think, and (for some reason) people think that's cool.
But, I did come here prepared for the strong possibility that most people are conniving, dishonest and wholly self-interested; that most men would be far more interested in what's below my neck than above; and that politics is more about service to ego than service to country. So, it's hard to find anything profoundly disillusioning after that. It was more like a further decline into cynicism, laziness, and sullenness in the pursuit of money, the hallmarks of a great lobbyist or Hill staffer.