A Word In Defense Of Lobbyists

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - March 05, 2008
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LOBBYIST: “one who attempts to influence or sway (as a public official) toward a desired action.”

Joy and Alan are lobbyists.

Joy works for American Public Power Association (APPA), an association of more than 2,000 community-owned electrical utilities all over the U.S. Alan works for XO Communications, which provides voice, data and IP services to businesses and other telecommunications companies in 75 metropolitan markets across the U.S.

For several years, Joy and Alan worked on Capitol Hill for senators and congressmen doing what typical “staffers” do: gathering information, doing research, scheduling, accompanying their bosses on fact-finding trips and meeting with lobbyists. Joy developed expertise in energy, Alan in technology. Typical of many staffers, they eventually left “the Hill” for the private sector, usually for substantially higher salaries. Now they are paid to “sway or influence (members of the Senate or House) toward a desired action.”

Joy and Alan met on the Hill, and were married a year ago last November. With their higher salaries they have been able to buy a nice house in a modest neighborhood of the pricey D.C. area and start a family; the first installment of which is my wife Susan Page’s and my eighth grandchild.

The point is, contrary to the dark and nefarious images promoted by our mainstream media and, sadly, much of the current campaign rhetoric, lobbyists do not have horns and tails and pockets full of corporate greenbacks, but are mainly nice, normal, people like you and me. As in any profession there are exceptions, of course, but to put it in a more-enlightened way, lobbyists are simply educators.

When Congress is convened each year it is destined to deal with thousands of bills, resolutions, committee reports, and judicial and administrative appointments. Add to that each legislator’s responsibility to communicate and meet with constituents, travel, speak and vote, it is not humanly possible to know all the subtle pros and cons of every piece of legislation that requires his or her vote. That’s where lobbyists come in. More often than not working through the legislator’s staffers rather than the legislator personally, lobbyists explain the pros or the cons of an issue in order to get the desired vote beneficial to his or her organization or - in the case of a freelance lobbyist -their client.

For example, if Congress is considering regulatory legislation that would take away a certain competitive edge that XO Communications had developed fairly through innovation or research, Alan would lobby the legislators to vote “no” on the bill because XO’s innovation also saves money for the consumer; a fact of which the legislator may not be aware. The end result is that no matter how the vote goes, the congressperson’s vote is cast from an informed mindset rather than one of ignorance.

A piece of tax legislation may affect the viability of a community-owned electric company and a member of APPA. Joy might then lobby for a “no” vote, because passage would raise the price of electricity in a particular economically depressed community, a fact legislators should want to know before voting.

We hear a lot of negativity about big, bad “special interests” and their lobbyists offering junkets on corporate jets and lavish weekend getaways for legislators. Well, dear reader, aside from the fact that those days of mindless extravagance are long gone, every issue, every bill, every resolution is of “special interest” to someone. We are all a part of some special interest, and we are all lobbyists! When we go before the neighborhood board urging them to keep public beach access, or to keep the Koko Head trail open, or when we attend a public hearing, or write a “letter to the editor,” we are lobbying. When we make a campaign donation we are, in effect, lobbying.

We should keep in mind that an outcome advocated by a lobby-ist can, more often than not, be in the best interest of a legislator’s constituency and in the best interest of the country, or the state, or the city, or the neighborhood.

Contrary to what we have been brainwashed to believe, God bless our lobbyists!

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