Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

January 5, 2006

Lobbying for Dummies

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:06 pm

Some of my best friends are liberals — and one of them just sent me an e-mail with this little taunt:

i hear there is a lobbist position available for the
rebublican party… and don’t forget to bring your
checkbook when you apply
:) :)

Now, I think he is trying to make a point — and I don’t think it’s a point about how liberals can’t spell or use capital letters, let alone to suggest I should become a lobbyist. I think the point has something to do with the recent guilty pleas of the formerly-famed Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Now I’m not a lobbyist, and I’ve never been a lobbyist, but in recent years I’ve had two sources from which I’ve learned a few facts about lobbying that I wouldn’t have known otherwise and that I don’t think most people know (except for #1 below). The sources are, (a) I work at a company that does research in a regulatored industry (health care), and we often do work for clients referred to us by lobbyists — who in turn use our research in their lobbying if it comes out the way they want — and (b) I live in a suburb of Washington, DC, where I have met some friends who are, or have been, lobbyists — a few of whom have talked to me about how it all works, and some of whom even know Jack Abramoff. How closely, I don’t know.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve learned, and my response to my Democrat friend:

  1. Lobbyists are not employed by parties. They are employed by people who want something, in order to influence parties. Some big companies hire both Republican and Democrat lobbyists, each to influence the party tow which they claim to be loyal. (They are actually loyal mainly to their employer, of course. At least as long as they work there.)

  2. You do not “bring your checkbook when you apply” to become a lobbyist. You bring your Rolodex. If you know lots of Congressmen — or even high-ranking civil servants — someone will pay you to contact them and tell them to do things that someone wants them to do (either favors, or vote a certain way). The lobbyist will also tell the client/employer who they should donate to in order to get things done. The client/employer pays the lobbyist to tell them this.

  3. The lobbyist never pays anybody. The client/employer pays everybody — the lobbyist (salary/retainer/fee), the politicians (contributions — campaign and otherwise, and golf trips), and the bureaucrats (golf trips, and high-paying cushy jobs after they do what the client/employer wants), and in the case of my firm, the client/employer pays consulting firms the lobbyist recommends to do research used to convince bureaucrats to do what the client/employer wants. Lobbyists also recommend that the client/employer pay other lobbyists in cases where the first don’t know the right politician/bureaucrat for a particular issue and they know another lobbyist who does. (So the lobbyist has to have a big Rolodex, but it also helps to know who’s in all the other lobbyists’ Rolodexes.)

  4. One question I had is, how do lobbyists (quasi-legally) get around the restrictions on explicitly giving money — like the $2,000 limit on campaign contributions? Not to mention, of course, the rules against explicitly trading contributions for actions. The first part is easy: lobbyists tell their clients to contribute, and the clients often have lots of people who can give $2,000 each. When the politician knows that a bunch of contributions are coming from people in a certain company or interest group, as recommended by the lobbyist, the both the company or interest group and the lobbyist benefit, because the politician appreciates the contributions from the company or interest group, and he or she also appreciates that the lobbyist recommended that they contribute (and he or she knows the lobbyist isn’t allowed to make that huge contribution himself). The second part is a bit more complicated. It works like this: A congressman once called a lobbyist who worked for a particular industry group and asked him to buy a table at his fundraising dinner. The lobbyist told him that his group has the following three policy concerns at the time, and they have a policy of supporting only those congressmen who’ve taken positions on their side of those three issues. He didn’t ask the congressman to change any positions, and didn’t promise him anything if he did. Within a few days, the congressman — who’d previously shown no interest on either side of these issues — released a press release supporting one position they liked, signed on as a co-sponsor of some legislation they wanted passed, and did some spoke on the floor in favor of their position on something. Then the industry group called it’s members, and the members bought a table at the fundraiser. (Of course, people can also “contribute” more than the $2,000 limit be seting up non-campaign organizations that unofficially do things to help candidates; this is how George Soros spent $35 million (or whatever it was) on John Kerry’s campaign despite the $2,000 “limit.”)

  5. Another way they get around the contribution restriction is this: Sure congressmen like campaign contributions, but they also like other kinds of contributions — like charity, for example. Maybe a Congressman is on the board of the Inner-City Youth Chess and Self-Esteem Foundation. The lobbyist finds this out, and has his clients give a large (no measly $2,000 limit!) contribution to the foundation. Now, why would this influence the politician? Well, for one thing, the politician may actually care about the charity. Even most politicians actually care about something besides getting elected. For another thing, it can be good publicity — the politician can get a photo-op at the ceremony where the company hands the poster-sized $50,000 check to the director of the foundation, and basks in the reflected good publicity that comes from being associated with charitable causes. Plus, the foundation’s staff or organizer or beneficiaries like the fact that the congressman has this magical ability to steer contributions their way, so they nice things about him and that means the money actually could help him get elected, even though he doesn’t have it to spend on his campaign. Plus, at election time he can tout his involvement in “the community” by saying he serves on the boards of all these foundations — foundations that would have no interest in keeping him on their boards if it weren’t for the fact that he can arrange contribution from the folks like Amalgamated Union of BB Stackers, which would not care about Inner-City Youth Chess except that Representative Bullhorn is on their board, and also chairs the House Subcommittee on Small Metal Objects, which has jurisdiction over occupational health and safety regulations in the BB-stacking industry. So, they donate $50,000 to the Inner-City Youth Chess Foundation because they aren’t allowed to donate it to Representative Bullhorn’s re-election campaign, and the Foundation is her (Bullhorn’s — did I say Bullhorn was male?) second choice.

As far as I can tell, Jack Abramoff is not in trouble for giving bribes, as such. He’s in trouble for directing client bribes to particular politicians — of both parties, although he himself is a Republican. He is also in trouble for directing client contributions to some charities he cared about by telling the client some politican cared about them. (As well as the Florida stuff, which as far as I can tell has nothing to do with politics.)

And to answer my liberal friend’s implied taunt, I’m only slightly embarrassed that he’s a Republican. Yes, Republicans should know better. But (like John Podhoretz), I’m more embarrassed that he’s apparently an (otherwise) Orthodox Jew — which means he really should have known better!

As for my liberal Democrat friend (also an Orthodox Jew), I wonder how he feels about this, as explained by someone who, unlike me, is an actual ex-lobbyist:

What is missed in the Abramoff hooplah is how the whole investigation … at least the lobbying side of it…came about. From the WaPo 12.29.05[:]

“Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.), the ranking Democrat on the Indian Affairs Committee, remembers first hearing “vague complaints” about Abramoff in June 2003 from three Democratic lobbyists. The tribes had traditionally supported Democrats, but Abramoff was capturing them for Republicans, getting them to boost their contributions and give two-thirds to his party.”

Only in D.C. will a group of lobbyists, lobby a Dem Senator to go after a Republican lobbyist because Republican lobbyist convinced clients to contribute to Republicans. In D.C., getting a donor to flip sides is the greatest of sins.

So, if Jack would have let the Dems have a fair share of the Indian money flowing to political campaigns, the lobbyists wouldn’t have run to Dorgan, who also got some $90,000 in Abramoff related money, and Jack could have kept bilking the tribes.

What brought down Abramoff was his success. He was getting better results than most lobbyists and making a pile of money and sniping clients from other firms.

And of course, getting the Indians to contribute to Republicans … on K-Street, that is the unforgivable sin, for while most lobbying interests are big business, their lobbyists tend to be former Democrat staffers, who still want the Blue team to win.

My K-Street and politics education came the old fashioned way. I saw Liberal Democrat lobbyists stear money to candidates who consistently voted against their clients interests. I saw a lobbyist from a Pharmaceutical company direct the company make a max contribution to a candidate who wanted to crack down on the Pharmaceutical Industry’s profits and require more stringent safety standards.

The Pharm company didn’t know what was going on. But their lobbyist, a part-time gay rights activist, was actually playing the marriage issue with his company’s money.

Big businesses are waking up to what has been happening to them–the lobbyists have been ripping them off.

I also learned an unwritten rule in lobbying–don’t be too good, then everyone will have to work harder and produce results.

If you are too good, the other lobbyists will turn on you. Remember, most lobbyists are long removed from being a middling staffer. Few of them come from the campaign side and to them it is a big machine. The ones from the campaign side, at least Republicans, rarely end up on K-Street. They are too philosophically oriented, too driven to win and not urbane enough for those whose father could buy them an internship to start moving up the D.C. ladder. There are very few winning campaign managers running around D.C. when compared to those who come up through the company.

For those who came in through the staff side, D.C. is a company town and they just want to keep the money flowing and pay the mortgage and help the party they came up through.

Abramoff broke the rules. He cut off a source of Democrat money, got results and stole clients.

All of which led some Dem lobbyists to complain to a Dem Senator who took Abramoff related money.

That is how messed up the place is and why I stayed on the campaign side and eventually got out of it all.

One Response to “Lobbying for Dummies”

  1. No Nanny State Says:

    Circle Jerk
    This lobbyist scandal involving Jack Abramoff is another snapshot at how politics are run here in America. Different River gives a very insightful and scary description of how lobbyists work and get funds into the hands of our elected leaders. Truly …

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