Steal This Idea

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: a little touch of blackmail...

If I wanted to get the issue of software patents into a presidential camp as something for them to use to show their grasp of technological policy issues, how would I do it? (Ideally I'd like to limit software patents to a five year term, but having a candidate show some flesh on the issue at all would be a treat.)

This is easy. Show them polls that show that voters actually care and would decide their votes based on the issue. Then they'll be all over the issue like flies on shit.

Oh, wait. Hmm. Maybe not so easy, because most people don't care/know enough. The best hope you got, buddy, is to write a letter and ask for a clarification on the candidate's position, and some campaign intern or junior staffer will bullshit you a response and you can make up your mind that way. Because, like most politicians, they don't really care that much about issues, they just want to get elected.

Are the new lobbying laws the legislative hand job they appear to be or is there actually going to be the fundamental change in the way lobbyists operate?

Well, let me turn this around on you. Do you think that lobbyists will operate significantly differently because they have to file quarterly instead of semiannually? Do you think that Members and staff will treat lobbyist significantly differently now that we can't treat them to meals at Union Pub or T Coast or even some nice place? Do you think forcing all receptions to be plate-less will really affect a Member's vote one way or the other?

Or maybe, just maybe, do you think that the biggest problem in lobbying is how tied we are into political donations... which is the one thing that the stupid bill doesn't touch?

So, sure, there are some daily changes. We have to be more cognizant of the lines for certain things, like how I have to be careful that if I buy a staffer friend a drink I don't put it on my corporate card instead of my personal card. I have to make sure I reach some completely nonsensical hurdle of non-staffer/non-lobbyist attendance if my organization is planning a reception or something. We can't have staffers at facilities tours or trade shows or anything to show them something they can't necessarily "get" from reading about it. I can't hand out stupid coffee mugs or treat an office to pizza on a day their bosses keep them there until midnight and the cafeterias are closed. But, if the intention was to change our ability to influence legislation... it depends on whether you think that kind of mostly little stuff was crazy influential or not, and whether there are influential things we can still do (like, pass out campaign contributions) that the legislation didn't touch. In my opinion, the legislation is designed to make Members' constituents feel they've done something; to make lobbyists' lives more of a pain; and to affect mostly the little crap that some staffers felt made the really low salaries more tolerable. But, maybe it is really groundbreaking ethics reform. You tell me.

With all the hooker-buying, crouching-in-stalls, foot-tapping action going on, my thoughts have strayed to blackmail of our elected representatives more than once over the past month. Do you have any good dish or even an apocryphal urban legend about Senators being blackmailed by any lobbying groups for their sexual misconduct? Are lobbyists in Washington soulless enough to use such tactics? Feel free to steal the idea, by the way, if you think it would help in your career.

Well, I guess it depends on how you define blackmail. I mean, there are tons of stories around of women who have advanced their careers on their backs- and some are even probably true. Is it blackmail if you nail a married Congressman and with a wink and a nod he helps you get ahead and it's just understood you'll never sell him out to Larry Flynt? I mean, it's not overt blackmail, but you don't see too many wealthy/ powerful/ well-remunerated women coming forward to confess that they banged a particularly powerful Congressman or Senator.

As for the more overt blackmail, I don't know any stories, but that might be because it would just be really stupid. For one, most Members don't get in that much trouble for extramarital sex- Larry Craig (glory hole aficionado) and David Vitter (whoremonger who will probably be re-elected) aside. It generally takes a hell of a lot of hypocrisy or a leetle bit of lawbreaking to get the MSM to care, and it rarely happens then (maybe because all the reporters have mistresses, too?). But, all a blackmailable Member has to do is report you to the authorities, and you're totally fucked, and he looks like a slightly pervy by overall honest guy and is re-elected by a huge margin.

Plus, most lobbyists are as big a group of horndogs as the legislators, and men don't tattle on other men (especially when they can be tattled on themselves). Show me a big time lobbyist without a couple of affairs under his belt and... we'll likely be talking to some nice older, vaguely grandmotherly lady. Or a figment of your imagination.


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