The American League of Lobbyists (ALL) has a branding problem. The group represents the interests of lobbyists who are busy wandering the halls of Congress and lining the pockets of insiders with your tax dollars.
The problem is that lobbyists are (not surprisingly) the only group of Americans more unpopular than Congress right now. And according to a document uncovered by The Hill newspaper, ALL is angling to drop the word “lobbyist” from its name.
This is classic Washington double-talk at its finest. ALL, a group that protects and defends the interests of lobbyists, wants to hide its true business by striking the term from its name. Go figure.
The movement to rebrand ALL is a reaction to the “no lobbyists wanted” sign that Obama hung when his administration came to D.C. (Of course, a new study referenced in the Journal of Public Affairs shows that Obama’s big talk about lobbyists is nothing more than that. In fact, his team is loaded with former lobbyists).
You can read ALL’s frustration with Obama’s supposed “no lobbyists” policy on its website: “Instead of lobbyists like me, the President would rather have campaign supporters like Jon Bon Jovi to the White House Council for Community Solutions or Shakira to a Commission tasked to provide advice and guidance to the Secretary of Education on education issues related to Hispanics and address academic excellence and opportunities for the Hispanic community. The President was even so bold to accept campaign support from individuals who would deregister as a lobbyist then appoint those very individuals who would skirt the law just so they could work on the campaign and accept a nomination to an advisory committee.”
The Back Story
Most lobbyists, before they begin their lobbying career, work inside of a government agency or on Capitol Hill as a staffer. They become an expert in a niche field. Then, when they’ve achieved a certain amount of “political clout”, they ask a lobbyist if their firm might have an opening. Finally, the lobbyist-to-be cashes in on the relationships he or she made working in government.
This works particularly well when lobbyists target the Congress member or committee for whom they spent years working. Washington is all about cutting deals for “special friends,” and most Capitol Hill staffers long for the day they can be that “special friend.”
It’s a powerful position to be in. Special friends have the ability to influence legislation – and changing a single sentence in a law can re-direct billions of dollars to a company or government contractor. On top of that, most laws are never read by the legislators themselves. Only the specialist hired by the lawmakers really knows what’s in most of today’s complex legislation.
Duck and Run
Not surprisingly, the work of lobbyists has drawn the ire of the American public. And ALL thinks that, by simply changing the name of its group, it can hide what it does. The new proposed names include gems like “The Association of Government Relations Professionals”, “The National Association of Government Relations Professionals”, and the “Government Relations Professionals Association.”
As it turns out, this is actually a good strategy for working with Obama. As I said before, Obama claims to hate lobbyists – but in reality, he hires dozens of them under the radar.
Conor McGrath, who authored the aforementioned study in the Journal of Public Affairs, discovered 119 erstwhile lobbyists amongst the Obama brass. The administration hired onetime in-house lobbyists from Microsoft (MSFT), Fannie Mae (FNMA), Wellpoint (WLP), AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), Sprint (S),Monsanto (MON), Yahoo (YHOO), Google (GOOG), Raytheon (RTN) andGoldman Sachs (GS). And Obama has employed from the ranks of the elite K Street lobbying firms Cassidy & Associates, Covington & Burling, Heather Podesta & Partners, Akin Gump, Arnold & Porter, Winston & Strawn, Timmons & Co. and more.
To hire them, Obama’s team simply tweaked the rules. To the lobbyists, they essentially said: If you let your lobbying registration lapse for a few years, you can get right in! And even if you haven’t thought ahead and dropped your registration, there’s likely an exception, technicality, or waiver to help you in the door. If that doesn’t work, we’ll simply disregard our own rules.
The list of other lobbyists in the Obama team is long indeed, so ALL shouldn’t worry. If they tell the world that special interests aren’t to be represented, they actually mean: Special interests–please line up here, send a contribution to Organizing for Action, and we’ll see about your exemption.
This article originally appeared at CapitolHillDaily.com and is reprinted here with permission.