Much-Maligned Lobbyists Play a Crucial Role
Lamar, Stephen, Insight on the News
This year's debate on lobbying reform underscores a continuing public hostility toward lobbyists and their profession. In the rush to pass new, overly restrictive lobbying regulations, Congress often forgets that citizens have a right to hire (or be) lobbyists. Congress should find a way to enact the useful elements of lobbying reform without trampling the public's basic lobbying rights.
For years, lobbyists have been the scapegoat of almost every failed initiative. While much of this scorn has been heaped on the so-called bad lobbyists (shills for gun-loving, ozonedepleting, tax-avoiding foreign entities), the so-called good lobbyists (advocates for environment-preserving, homeless-aiding, peace-advancing causes) have been tarnished as well.
At the same time, lobbyists are in demand. Lobbying registrations have increased by 30 percent during the past six years. Just about every group has a lobbyist or two to protect their interests in Washington. Even lobbyists have lobbyists.
Moreover, along with journalists and assorted members of the clergy, lobbyists are protected by the First Amendment. But while this constitutional blessing may not translate into public adoration -- just witness the lack of public warmth for the media -- it does confer a certain amount of professional distinction. And it certainly should provide some legal guarantees against excessive restrictions, both to the lobbyists and to the people who want to hire them.
Among other things, the First Amendment reads "Congress shall make no law respecting ... the right of the people ... to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Clearly, the framers of the Constitution believed that free access to the government was a key element -- along with an independent press and freedom of religion -- of a vigorous democracy.
Despite these constitutional admonitions, Congress already has passed legislation requiring lobbyists to register their clients and disclose their activities, including confidential memos. …