We Need More Lobbyists

Article excerpt

Byline: Nick Allard; Allard leads the lobbying practice of the law firm Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C.

Surviving as a lobbyist requires thick skin. But in recent years, the age-old attacks on my profession have escalated into a populist crusade. So I've defended the advocacy business in Stanford's Law & Policy Review, and before college and industry audiences who usually respond to my opening line--"Lobbying is honorable"--with a mixture of laughter and groans. I can't say that I've made a dent in public opinion, which still tends to rate lobbyists as less trustworthy than used-car salesmen. But my point--that lobbying is honest and necessary work--is timelier than ever.

Last month, the Supreme Court made it easier for corporations and unions to spend money on campaigns, sparking new fears that money will further control Washington, D.C. Whether you love it or loathe it, the decision has also renewed efforts to crack down on lobbying. But contrary to conventional wisdom, the solution is more lobbying, not less. Instead of trying to limit the use of expert advocacy, we need to find ways to give the less advantaged more access to legislative muscle. Lobbying provides a check on undue influence, power, and favoritism. It keeps lawmakers accountable. And even the poorest village should have its own firepower, so to speak--its own version of The Magnificent Seven in the Capitol.

Admittedly, the image of wealthy backslappers fighting for the little guy is not the first to pop into most people's minds. That's because lobbyists are usually caricatured as hired guns for "special interests," blocking Ma-and-Pa legislation to benefit big corporations. In truth, all Americans have lobbyists working for them in some capacity. Among the organizations that spent the most on lobbying in 2009 are the decidedly people-oriented AARP ($15 million) and the American Cancer Society ($3 million). Teachers, firemen, police officers, soldiers, entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, kids--they all have lobbyists.

So how do we give them access to more? …