Lobbyists get a bad rap. No, stick with me here, they do. A decade ago I was a lobbyist for a few years. I’ve also worked as a legislative aide and as a senior executive who’s retained lobbyists. A good lobbyist isn’t a power broker or puppet master (although for many, they market themselves as such). No, at their core, a good lobbyist is a conduit of information. A good lobbyist advocates for their client, using facts and reasoning to persuade. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, and sometimes their cause survives to be discussed at another day.
Lawmakers can not possibly know everything about everything. Our system relies upon advocates (some paid lobbyists, others just passionate individuals) to help make sure their decisions are educated ones.
I know dozens of outstanding men and women, liberal and conservative, who are solid professionals in the government relations industry. Some even admit to being my friend.
That being said, the public is growing weary over the behind-closed-doors aspect of governing. Public discourse is the life-blood of a healthy democracy. When the public believes lawmakers are led by lobbyists, (or the oft-used ‘special interests’ ) faith in government plummets. I believe that’s why approval ratings for all levels of government are at record lows right now.
It’s not a partisan thing. The public’s disdain is not driven by loyalty to party. People feel like only the insiders matter. That’s a huge problem if you’re a fan of representative democracy.
The problem is not lobbyists. The problem is lawmakers who think the public good and the desire of their constituents is the same as what they’re hearing from their ‘team’s’ lobbyists.
Lawmakers bring the public’s disdain upon themselves. It’s not necessarily because of what they vote for or against. But how they go about it.
Whether they are advanced quickly or over the course of years, the best legislative initiatives are explained, promoted, voted upon, and their success is promoted after the fact. The worst are shoved down our throats (or killed in back rooms) without regard to the public.
When lawmakers in control of the levers of government fear public discussion of their work, we all are worse off.
The lobbyists don’t have the power. Constituents lease power to lawmakers.
When things are done or not done, don’t blame the lobbyists. Blame the lawmakers.