It never fails that at this time of year the lobbyists who work the ropes at the state capital are blamed for the outcome of a piece of high profile legislation. It’s almost March and the sharp edges are out both privately and publicly, for and against the major bills moving through the gold dome. Whispers of deceit and lies, of cash and alcohol flowing off the radar always come out when the “other” side is losing a battle.
It’s really simple. Lobbyists represent clients in front of the legislators to be sure that “their” side is getting a fair shake when a bill is working its way through the chambers. Trust me there are lobbyists representing both sides on every issue and in some cases there are “consultants” or “friends” of a position lobbying at least as hard as those with credentials. Lobbyists by law have to register with the state ethics commission. Those “consultants” and “friends” should but don’t. They live in a grey area that makes registered lobbyists crazy. Registered lobbyists agree to transparency when they pay the fee and get the badge. The others don’t and that’s where the problem exists.
Someone said to me today, “If you’re going whisper in Caesar’s ear you ought to have to do it out in the open.” And I’ll ad that Caesar should want the whisper to be a shout. That way Caesar can keep his job when the next election cycle rolls around. Its secrecy that makes voters cringe!
The public has a poor perception of lobbyists due to the media’s reporting of Washington and how the K Street lobbyists supposedly run everything. That’s not entirely true but it’s also not completely false. You see Congressman and Senators are mostly just like you and me. They may have come from positions in life that have allowed them to make a lot of money and attain a certain status but in reality when they get to D.C., or the gold dome here in Georgia, they realize very quickly that the learning curve is very steep and the information upload is massive. Yesterday you were a candidate trying to win a popularity contest and today you have to vote on an energy bill or an agriculture bill that impacts the lives of thousands. Without the help of lobbyists, from both sides, the elected official is swimming up-stream! I say both sides because the second realization as an elected official is that you may not know what you thought you knew! When you get the “whole” picture laid out before you the clarity of mind that you had as a candidate is suddenly gone when the “other” side comes in and makes an argument. There really are two sides to every debate.
There are bad apples in every industry and lobbying has its share. Bad lobbyists can only cheat if there is a willing elected official, so the blame is shared by both sides. Consultants and friends of an issue give registered lobbyists headaches because it tilts the playing field away from those playing by the rules. I don’t agree with all of the rules that lobbyists have to play by but they are there to make government more transparent and I do like that!