Beware of Lobbyists and Unicorns
Today, I throw myself on the mercy of the public and beg forgiveness. It is true. I confess. I am, and have been for some time, gulp, a lobbyist. Audible gasps in the room ensue right here.
Polling and focus groups clearly and consistently tell campaigners that if a candidate can label his opponent as a lobbyist, do it. Do it loudly and repetitively. Do it because it is the most sinister thing a candidate can be, right? I’m so ashamed of myself. Well not really, because while I am a lobbyist, I am not a candidate. At least not yet.
I used to think being labeled a lobbyist made a person un-electable. And then Indiana survived the victorious 2010 U.S. Senate campaign of Dan Coats. Hoosiers decided it was ok for him to be a senator, become a lobbyist, and then magically turn back into senator again. I didn’t think we would do that here in the Heartland, but we did. And when we did, I thought the evil lobbyist spook stories would fade into folksy lore.
But they haven’t. So today’s civics lesson is designed to explain how silly the myth is, why my profession exists, and why it is more than acceptable to be one of us.
First and foremost, the bulk of the things lobbyists do is participate in the public policy processes that are available to any other citizen. There is nothing I do in my role as a lobbyist that Joe Sixpack is prohibited from doing. The only thing that differentiates me from Joe is that I am compensated for doing it. And because of that compensation, I am defined by law as a lobbyist, and therefore required to disclose my activity.
Many people and especially those who are prone to pay attention to political ads on television, seem to believe that only Wall Street and evil oil companies have lobbyists. Uh, that is also wildly incorrect. Here’s a sampling of entities registered to lobby in Indiana this year: Indiana Boys and Girls Clubs, the United Way, Indiana Catholic Conference, Indiana Family Institute, Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, Indiana Wildlife Federation, and the list goes on and on.
Pretty scary and money grubbing group of folks there I must admit.
I am a contract lobbyist. Which means entities will hire me for specific needs as a cost effective alternative to employing a lobbyist full time. My value is that I know the government processes better than most, and because I actively participate in Indiana government year in and year out, I also know the people. My educational and professional backgrounds in public service and policy also help. Finally, my communications skills make the difference. Yes, I can tell a story, as my regular readers will attest, but I also do plenty of listening, reading and learning, so I understand things in context.
In his six years in Congress, Todd Young has met with hundreds, if not thousands of guys like me on congressional issues. I am pretty sure he didn’t open those meetings with an implied insult of calling them a lobbyist. Dan Coats and Evan Bayh did not become untrustworthy by lobbying. Let’s quit trying to manipulate the public by behaving as if they did.
Lobbyists simply advocate for things from government. For one to be valuable for any length of time, they also stay engaged in government and politics with very little interruption. And people only “cash in” as a lobbyist if they have earned some valuable bit of credibility or knowledge that differentiates them from the masses. Bayh and Coats served honorably and effectively in their first terms, which made them attractive to the private sector.
Disgraced Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock probably doesn’t have many lobbying offers to contemplate these days. Just as an example.
My point is this: stop it with the attempts to use “lobbyist” labels as a disqualifier in political ads. Our industry is as ethically sound as any and the ploy is hollow and manipulative. If a candidate wants to earn trust, start by being trustworthy. And that requires honesty.
The land of make believe that features the unicorn type creatures known as lobbyists, galloping wild and free with briefcases full of unmarked $100 bills to bribe the poor, unsuspecting and pure members of congress is just that: make believe.
It is as reality based as the U.S./Mexican border wall project.
Just don’t tell the American Association of Border Wall Constructers that. I think they might have a lobbyist.