Playing the Power Game: In the Arena of Politics, Lobbyists Are the Ultimate Insiders

By Jones, Joyce | Black Enterprise, May 1996 | Go to article overview

Playing the Power Game: In the Arena of Politics, Lobbyists Are the Ultimate Insiders


Jones, Joyce, Black Enterprise


Politics is a high-stakes power game. And in Washington, it's a hands-on sport where those with the most influence on legislators and lobbyists are the major power players.

But many mistakenly believe that representatives for powerful corporate interests are the only ones with any real influence. Lobbyists can level the playing field for minority and small business interests, those most in need of assistance, says lobbyist and entrepreneur Michael Brown, who happens to be the son of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. "We provide a very needed function: helping people through the maze and hurdles of the legislative process, which can get tricky."

Information, a lobbyist's most powerful tool, is at a premium for members of Congress and their staffs, since they must deal with hundreds of issues during the course of a legislative session. They rely on lobbyists to provide accurate information on industry trends and needs, according to one Judiciary Committee staffmember. "It's difficult to imagine how good legislation would function without the informed database of people," he explains.

Contrary to the image of backroom wheeling and dealing, a typical lobbying campaign begins at the grass-roots level. As politicians debate issues affecting women and small business owners represented by Joann Payne, president of Women's First National Legislative Committee, the lobbyist, in turn, alerts her clients to what's going on and encourages them to contact policymakers to ensure that their views are considered. "The most important thing is that [clients] not read about legislation after it's already law and affecting them," says Payne. She then follows up their letters, faxes and phone calls by meeting with House members and their staffs. If necessary, Payne will bring clients to Washington to knock on doors. The relationships that she's developed on the Hill help swing those doors open.

"It's about networking. It's about follow through. And it's about access," says Brown. He successfully lobbied Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to set aside airwave frequencies to be auctioned off to entrepreneurs. …

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