Liver and Soul

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: Is it hard out here for a lobbyist?

I was reading that lobbyists are having to work harder with a Democratic majority in Congress. The claim was that the Republican Congress used to more or less take orders from the lobbyists and that the lobbyists weren't used to or prepared for legislators who ask questions like, why?, or how does this help the folks back home?. Have you noticed this difference? Can you confirm or repudiate this claim?

Well, that sorta depends on the lobbyist, and the issue. I mean, the environmental and union lobbyists probably aren't sweating much of anything these days (except maybe the fate of the card check legislation). And what is the carbon impact of a 3 martini lunch, anyway?

But, how much trouble a lobbyist is having with a Democratic Congress just depends on how lazy s/he was before they took over. It was always the rare Member or Senator who took "orders" from lobbyists before - I meant, most of them are fantastic egotists, and taking orders from the lesser lobbying caste doesn't quite mesh with your average Member's self-image as the decider. So, I wouldn't say that there was a cadre of Republicans who took orders from particular Republican lobbyists... at least, not anymore than there are Dems that took orders from union or environmental lobbyists (or than that everyone dances to the AARP's tune).

However, it's pretty fucking easy to walk into an office you know already agrees with you and "lobby" an issue, and lobbyists are always about the path of least resistance. The whole idea that you talk to your friends and bullshit your adversaries and figure that what you want will happen anyway is really the switch from an R to a D Congress as far as some of the stupider lobbyists in D.C. are concerned. And, not to totally harp on the K Street Project again, but the whole point of it (originally) was to get companies/lobbying firms/trade associations to hire Grover's and Tom Delay's ideological compatriots, so those folks are just totally used to thinking ideologically about issues, and then going into offices with the same ideology, and you just can't do that anymore (unless you're a lefty lobbyist, in which case, you're still doing it).So, to a degree it's true, but there are also lobbyists out there who know enough to have their own pitch, and modify it to the office and to be able to answer questions when asked.

I work for a US cabinet-level Department and we have our own crew of legislative liaison folks who track things on the Hill. I have often wondered how influential they are. Are they like your colleagues, in that they have some influence with members/staffers and can provide information to alter the course of a specific bill or budget number, or do they just watch and report helplessly, because they have no money to give?

The reason your "legislative liaisons" are not called lobbyists is that, technically, they're not allowed to "lobby." Which doesn't stop them from doing pretty much everything that a lobbyist does, including telling Members what is good/bad for the department or administration policy, building coalitions, helping with whipping stuff they like, interacting with actual lobbyists, etc. Most of them come off the Hill or used to be private sector lobbyists, so they have their friends that they go to for intelligence and assistance, just like the rest of us.

That does not, however, mean that they don't sit around on their thumbs. Being as I've only been a professional lobbyist for the length of this Administration, I can't comment on how Bubba's people did at their jobs, but a lot of the legislative liaisons are incompetent fuckwits at best -- they're churned out of the same system as has done such a stellar job picking high level appointees, in many cases, or plucked from an obscure bureaucratic career for reasons fathomable only to OPM.. They either think they're more important than they are, miss stuff, forget to liaise, burn bridges or just generally do a disservice to the agency that they're trying to help. So, it sort of depends on your department. I'm guessing, though, if you're asking, they're about as pointless as you think they are.

Have you ever felt like chucking the whole lobbying gig, drying out, and moving to a place where people like you for you? It seems to me like your liver and your soul could use the break.

That's sweet, but who ever said I had a soul?


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