TEXT OF COMMENTARY
KAI RYSSDAL: PG&E spent $700,000 on lobbyists last year. Media giant Time Warner? A cool 624,000 to lobby the feds in 2007. The American Apparel & Footwear Association? Eight hundred seventy thousand to fight shoe tariffs and other trade issues. We know that because they had to tell us. The Senate posted disclosure forms earlier this week.
Commentator and lobbyist advocate Brian Pallasch hears all the usual gripes, but he says lobbyists actually help, not hinder, Washington.
BRIAN PALLASCH: Listen to the stump speeches of the presidential candidates, and you’ll hear a lot about lobbyists. Barack Obama wants to “tell the lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.” Hillary Clinton promises to permanently ban her cabinet officials from lobbying her administration once they’ve left office, and John McCain brags that his national energy policy won’t be “a full employment act for lobbyists.”
The lobbyist may be a convenient punching bag in an election year, but lobbying is a fundamental right guaranteed by our Constitution. The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” and lobbyists help people accomplish that. Why is that important?
Say you’re passionate about finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. You can try to be a lone voice in the wilderness, but chances are there’s a lobbying organization that can bolster your argument with research and facts, and the ability to get that info to people who make the decisions.
Critics like to slam lobbyists as stand-ins for special interests. That’s the funny thing about special interests. They’re easily dismissed as “special,” until they’re yours. Lobbyists represent all points of view on issues confronting the country: environment, labor, the elderly, veterans, but also privacy advocates, pet owners and even online poker players. That’s the great thing about America. Everyone has a voice, and lobbyists are an effective way to get those voices heard.
Five thousand bills are introduced during a Congressional session, and lobbyists perform an important function. They explain the practical effects of that legislation on the groups they represent. A responsible elected official should consider the information and arguments from both sides of an issue, then make the right decision for his constituents. Unfortunately, too many politicians choose to take cheap shots. When they do, they diminish the public-policy process.
KAI RYSSDAL: Brian Pallasch is the president of the American League of Lobbyists in Washington, D.C.