Here's to the Lobbyists Who Lunch

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: the days of expensing wine and roses are over.

A lot of your work seems to take place at restaurants. What makes for a more effective meeting? Do you go for a full blown power lunch at Bistro Bis with all of the necessary accoutrement, or is it better to simply split a pitcher at the Tune Inn?

Well, it's sorta all off the table, at this point, what with the new ethics reform. The only people I can really take out to lunch now are other lobbyists, and reporters. But, previously, yeah, I didn't get many staffers asking for a pitcher at the Tune Inn -- it was always lunch Fogo de Chão, or Ceiba, or Zaytinya or Oceanaire or DC Coast or Bistro Bis or wherever the new officially designated hotspot is (probably Proof these days), where they couldn't afford to go to on their own. And I like the nice places (especially when my expense account is paying) and was generally happy to oblige.

But, now, my expense account can't pay and business can't be discussed, so it's a bit limiting in terms of meal meetings. Basically, I can buy someone I'm friends with a drink or lunch or something on my own dime as long as we don't talk business and we can point to being actual friends if we get questioned, but I can't buy "friends" anything on my expense account and everyone's a bit loathe to game the system right now with all eyes on everyone. So, as I've noted before, it's basically just driving us lobbyists to go to more fundraisers and crap -- which, I'm sure, the legislators that put the ethics rules into place have no problem with at all.

What do you think of McCain-Feingold? Does it impact your work at all?

I think what one thinks of McCain-Feingold depends a lot on what one sincerely thinks it was intended to do. I'm all for disclosure, lots and lots of disclosure, more disclosure, but I think it's basically a law designed to keep Americans from their own stupidity and apathy when it comes to politics... in which case, it's entirely ineffective. Between it's ever-rising contribution limits, its large loopholes, and it's (now unconstitutional) advertising restrictions, I think it's basically intended to do as little as possible to keep politicians from being able to raise money while convincing Americans that its really effective at keeping "money out of politics" which is so laughable I just had trouble typing it.

At this point, I would rather see commercials for candidates that actually identify the sources of the money (X union says vote for this dimwit; Pepsi says vote for that idiot) rather than the current system in which the people giving the money to the candidates to make the ads are one or two stages of quarterly reporting away from the voters they're trying to influence. What the current system means is that a bunch of people are paying for the commercials that are trying to influence you, and it'll be 3 months (if ever) until you can figure out, maybe, who they are. Great disclosure, there, boys.

The biggest flaw, however, in both McCain-Feingold and the ethics rules is that Congress has absolutely no interest in stopping the gravy train of political donations from "regular" folks like me, who one could easily make the case benefit disproportionately from the goodwill generated by said donations.

As for my work, no, it doesn't really have an impact. I mean, I can make personal donations if I'm so inclined (which I'm generally not, and God knows I'm not allowed to get a raise for doing so), so it's mostly just spending PAC money and showing up at fundraisers. I haven't noticed an appreciable change in that compared to 2002, but maybe it's all on the backend paperwork kinds of stuff, which I leave to someone more paperwork-oriented than me.

But now that there are new ethics rules in play how are you going to keep those puppies satisfied? I'm referring to the people you lobby, not the sweater thingys.

See, the thing the big dogs want aren't the lunches and to cheap little promotional giveaways -- they make a minimum of $165,200/year, so they can eat out whenever and wherever they want. They've always been far more interested in political donations, which help keep them in office. So, gotta ramp up donations to Members and PAC solicitations to those that can give in that way, be picky about who we give to and under what circumstances and work with the Members like that. For the staffers, well, it was their bosses who cut off the lobbyist lunch/Nats tickets/free crap gravy train, so there's at least a sort of rueful acknowledgment there that there's nothing either of us can do, but they still have to take meetings and whatever. To try to make up for it, I try to keep my pitches short and reasonably informative or entertaining and let them get back to writing their resumes and one-pagers and constituent letters and g-chatting with their friends, particularly at this time of year.


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