By L. Vance Taylor, K Street Insider, The Hill
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Feb 10, 2009
This column originally appeared in The Hill newspaper – view the original version here.
Have you ever flipped through the TV on a lazy Sunday and caught yourself getting into a sermon on the gospel channel? Me too. Before I know it, I’m hanging on every word — you know, feeling it. Right up to the part where the preacher says I have to pay for a miracle; then I’m just ticked.
I recently had a similarly disappointing experience when I checked my inbox and found an interesting e-mail from a member of Congress who shall remain unnamed. It was addressed “Dear Friend,” a pleasing salutation; after all, who doesn’t love hearing from friends? My “friend” wrote about what an exciting time this is in history. She (that’s the only hint you’re getting) said change is upon us and laid out some of the legislative priorities she’s working on for me — it’s always nice to have someone in my corner. The closing was what I found to be disappointing:
P.S. Believe me, I know it is harder than before, but please send what you can — each and every dollar could literally be the difference in whether we can bring about meaningful change!!
Am I surprised that a member of Congress hit me up for money? Of course not.
What bothers me most about the e-mail is the hypocrisy of it all. It’s OK for members of Congress to ask for money, but as a registered lobbyist, I know I’ll get pounded for giving it. The second my check clears, my honorable “friend” will publicly deride me as a big, bad lobbyist seeking to buy influence with blood-soaked devil money. She’ll call for an end to my profession, applaud rules prohibiting me ever from working in government and call for the letter “L” to be branded on my forehead for all to see.
The hypocrisy of this double-standard seems to have reached new heights recently — with the White House leading the way. Both on the campaign trail and in his first days in office, President Obama has made his stance on lobbyists very clear.
When I logged onto www.barackobama.com this summer with the intention of making a small contribution, I found out that now-President Obama had decided to avoid the uncomfortable problem that so many members of Congress face: he simply refused to take contributions from lobbyists at all. It turns out pokies online that Obama wanted “change” from everyone except those of us who happen to work on K Street.
I admit it: Sometimes, I lobby Congress. Break out the cuffs!
Being branded with the label of “lobbyist” and denied the opportunity to fully contribute to the political process by financially supporting candidates is upsetting. Even more upsetting, however, is the possibility that despite all of the talk about change, we may not be moving very far away from the close-minded paradigm that has hurt the effectiveness of our government for the past eight years.
As lobbyists, my colleagues and I regularly face criticism based on the careers we’ve chosen. Too often we are dismissed summarily by people who have never taken the time to consider if, on an individual basis, we’re engaged in a public service. Apparently, my colleagues and I should have selected more honorable careers — perhaps like becoming a professional politician.
For eight years, we watched an administration that consistently ignored the advice of experts. The results were a mismanaged war, a botched response to Hurricane Katrina and a terrible economy.
The new administration needs experts in particular areas to provide counsel – from healthcare and national security to critical infrastructure and the economy. My concern is that the president and members of Congress won”t listen to some of the people who know those subjects best, simply because of a line on their résumés that designates them as registered lobbyists. The fact is: Not all politicians are Rod Blagojevich or Randy “Duke” Cunningham, “and not all lobbyists are Jack Abramoff.
If our elected leaders really want change, let’s hope they can get past the rhetoric of “no more politics as usual” and recognize that there is strength and value in learning from others. At the very least, members should stop sending money letters to “Dear Friend” and start addressing them to “Dear Sucker.”
Can we do it? Dare I say, “Yes we can,” or at least, we’ll see …
L. Vance Taylor is a principal with Catalyst Partners, a government relations and public affairs firm located in Washington. As one of only a handful of people in the nation with a master’s degree in homeland security, Mr. Taylor previously worked at the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), where he handled security-related policy issues affecting the drinking water and wastewater sector.