Ask a Lobbyist: Sea Breeze
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: Constructive criticism! And vodka.
Is there anything regular old, grassroots folks can learn from the lobbying world about working with congressional staff?
Who calls themselves the "grassroots" unless they're already politically active or a random folk rock band? Seriously? But, yeah, I can teach you a couple of things. Maybe when you come into town for your officially-designated, lobbyist-planned and -funded fly-in and clog the halls and get constantly lost you can take this along.
1. Nobody else is taking off their coats or shoes for the metal detectors. Seriously. That's the airport and this is Congress. Speed it the fuck up -- I've got places to be.
2. No, seriously, speed the fuck up. It's not necessary to walk 5 abreast in the halls while trying to read a map. Get out of the way.
3. Christ, just fucking ask someone for directions. Even I can fake being nice to you people for long enough to get you the fuck out of my way.
4. Jesus H. Christ. It's one floor up or down. Take the fucking stairs. Don't you know we have an obesity problem in this country?
5. Shhhh. Pretend like you're in the hallway between classes in high school. Shut the fuck up and try not to be noticed.
6. Yeah, the reason you're meeting with the receptionist is because no one cares. There's 40 groups a week in town just like yours and staffers have, like, legislation to write and lobbyists to meet with (the ones who wrote your scripts) and your sole purpose is just to show that somebody other than me cares about their votes. Oh, and to make you feel important.
7. Even those it's some snot-nosed 22 year old who is being super sweet but doesn't appear to know anything, be nice. Don't be laying down some vibe like you're so important and you give so much money and whatever. This poor girl is just doing what she's been told and she makes like $25K/year.
8. Howard Coble prefers grapefruit juice and vodka.
Do you have ANY ideas how to increase citizen participation and decrease the excessive influence of money from the equation?
Sure, there's a truly easy way. Fine people who don't vote. Australia does it. So do 19 other countries.. It's like a non-poll tax. The question is whether the Constitution guarantees the rights of citizens not to vote. It certainly guarantees citizens the right to be ill-informed. But, shit, man, I'd vote in the primaries if I had to pay for the right to think they're stupid and pointless.
Of course, that doesn't give you the end result you want (since your question doesn't exactly sound like it comes from Grover Norquist). I think that if you increase voter participation, you increase the power of incumbency and of attack ads. No one is likely willing to suggest that non-voters are less smart than voters (more cynical, maybe, or just journalists, but not stupider). I don't think that the amount of money has anything to do with anything in the end. Without voter apathy, the money is pointless. But, lucky for politicians, their constituents care as little about them as they do about their constituents!
So to decrease the influence of money? Can you make people give a shit about government? If everyone was taking 5 minutes a day to pay attention to issues and candidates rather than just watching stupid attack ads on commercial breaks then said commercials would be pointless, right? But Americans are too ADD to give a shit. We want our political information delivered in 30-second or less sound bites, preferably while we're getting another beer, or with humorous commentary from Jon Stewart. That doesn't have anything to do with money. But if you've got a cure for laziness and political apathy, I'm all ears.
So, hypothetically, how would you reform the campaign finance system?
Well, my standard answer is: why bother? I mean, shit, politicians write the campaign finance laws and they're the ones who skirt the rules, right? Personally, I'm all for caveat emptor. If you're going to vote for some fuckwit based on a series of inane 30 second commercials (and most of those people that vote, do) then you deserve what you get. And if you don't vote, then you can't bitch.
Does anything good ever get done in Congress? Real meaningful good, not pat the Boy Scouts on the head good.
Define good. Wait, the answer's still no. The only good thing they do is when they avoid doing anything through complete paralysis due to the unreliability of polling data. At least they can't fuck things up worse that way.