Another Type of Lobbying: No Expense Accounts
Zapor, Patricia, National Catholic Reporter
The corruption investigation into lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with government officials has opened a window into just one way lobbying works in Washington.
Another type of lobbying that goes on every day bears about as much resemblance to Abramoff's high-finance wheeling and dealing as his gourmet restaurant business lunches have to the quick sandwiches lobbyists for nonprofit organizations might grab in the Senate cafeteria.
Abramoff came to the attention of federal investigators because of the multimillions of dollars he and a partner earned from dealings with Indian tribes, which he has admitted to defrauding. In January, Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials in a scandal that is still reverberating through Congress and various investigative agencies.
The charges against Abramoff involve bribes to public officials, providing money, travel, entertainment and gifts in exchange for favorable consideration of legislation and access to politicians sought by his clients.
But the kind of money that routinely changed hands among Abramoff, his clients and those from whom they tried to buy favors would finance decades worth of the more down-to-earth lobbying work done by nonprofit organizations such as Catholic Charities USA, the Washington Office on Latin America, and Network, the Catholic social justice lobby.
To begin with, "We don't have expense accounts," explained Sharon Daly, senior adviser on public policy for Catholic Charities USA.
"At best, we might buy somebody a cup of coffee in the House cafeteria," she said. "There are no free trips, no buying rounds of golf."
It's not only that lobbyists for nonprofit organizations don't have that kind of money--they don't--but that the philosophy behind their work is different.
Nonprofit lobbyists are generally advocating positions on broad social policy or maybe seeking federal funding for entire categories of people--such as poor immigrants or children in day care, Daly explained. They're not asking Congress to fund new bridges or airport expansions that will benefit the for-profit clients of the lobbyists.
"They're not after funding for themselves," she said. "Typically Catholic Charities might be lobbying to educate members and staff about the effects on the people back home of certain proposals before Congress."
Joy Olson lobbies about such things as trade with Latin America, foreign aid, military action or immigration policy as part of her job as executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America. …