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Ask a Lobbyist: Statehouse Fatcats

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: playing both sides against the middle, bad class reunions, and the most ethical imaginary friend in Washington.

35 years ago, I heard a lobbyist explain what the crooks in the trade do: they get a friendly Congressman to sponsor legislation AGAINST their clients' interests, and then beat that bill to death to prove how necessary they are. Still happening?

Um, yeah, definitely, if the Abramoff report is any guide (and it is, on page 147). I mean, you hire a lobbyist to help you game the system, but you trust them not to game the system in their own favor? It's a little like marrying the man who made you his mistress and then expecting him not to keep a piece on the side. Now, there are plenty of approps lobbyists freaking that Congress didn't pass their earmarks this year, I suppose, but there are just as many soliciting another year's worth of business to promote the same stuff next year. It's easy money, man. Not that I'm totally suggesting everyone's approps lobbyists ran around town after the election keeping bills from passing, but, then again, I'm not looking around on Ebay for vials of their bitter, bitter tears, either.

On the other hand, talk to our red-headed step-siblings here in D.C. (the state lobbyists) and you'll hear stories all night about how they hired some in-state lobbyist 20 years ago to kill a bill, which he does successfully, year after year after year, but never quite manages to keep it from being re-introduced. You think we're sleazy? Hang out with a statehouse fat cat. My salary (and "entertainment" budget) would go a hell of a lot further in Springfield, IL than it does in D.C..

How does a lobbyist know that they have been successful?

When my paycheck arrives? I always feel tremendously successful on payday.

It's always good to see a bill I (get paid to) like pass, or to see one I'm trying to kill die a spectacular death, but that's sorta rare in lobbying, to be perfectly frank. Other than some sort of crisis that gets the Congressional leviathan off its plump backside, most legislation slowly waddles its way through Congress (like Denny!) over the course of several years. So, we talk lots about success in terms of moving the metaphorical ball forward and of how much attention and how many co-sponsors/committee hearings/caucus members we've managed to rack up over a year or a Congress. Having a bunch of low bars to successfully jump over makes me look both brilliant and successful to those who sign my paychecks. And that's really the only success in which I'm truly interested- my own personal career success.

This past week I met a lobbyist at an alumni event for my college. Aside from having the social skills of that weird robot from Lost in Space, she also became convinced that I had made all the wrong choices in life and was living a terrible mistake, career and education wise, after having known me for all of three minutes. My question is this: are all lobbyists this damn judgmental, awkward and annoying?

Yes, and no. I mean, my job is to make people's asses feel warm and kissed, which, generally speaking, does not involve being judgmental about their life, career and educational choices. It involves lots of head-tilting, hair-tossing, laughing at stupid jokes, and making people feel smarter than me (often not that hard), but it definitely doesn't involve being a straight-up bitch, and especially not at social events.

I'm going to guess that you ran into that distinct breed of lobbyist that I like to classify as an Issue Lobbyist. I'll bet she believes that what she's doing is really Important for the Future of Our Country, and she may not even call herself a lobbyist (issue advocate, maybe?). People like that grate on my nerves too -- doesn't matter if they work for ATR or NARAL, that sense of condescending smugness that they're right and everyone else is misguided always cheeses me off. But, yes, those people are often fucking judgmental,

awkward and annoying, particularly if I'm trying to drink and make nice.

Which doesn't mean I'm not judgmental or annoying, I'm just smart enough to drink until I don't care enough about what anyone is saying to pay attention or voice an opinion.

Who is the most ethical, most honest, most forthright lobbyist working in Washington today?

Honest, ethical and forthright people don't become lobbyists. Or, if they do, they either don't stay honest, ethical and forthright, or they don't stay lobbyists. At some point, you're going to have to make a friend you need but don't like, or make some political capital or just straight lobby for something you think is stupid or pointless (even those Issue Idiots), and you either sell out like the rest of us or you hang it up and head for your hometown to work in PR. Unfortunately, my hometown sucks, so it's dishonesty, amorality and obliqueness for me.

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