Commentary: Capitol Business: Lobbying: Influence Peddling or Free Speech?

By Pitts, William O. | THE JOURNAL RECORD, August 3, 2004 | Go to article overview

Commentary: Capitol Business: Lobbying: Influence Peddling or Free Speech?


Pitts, William O., THE JOURNAL RECORD


Some people call it influence peddling, but in many instances it is an exercise in free speech, and exemplifies the right to be heard in the legislative halls.

In recent days concern has been expressed about an increase in the influence of lobbyists in the next Legislature because there will be so many new faces next year.

Term limits account for 42 new members. Nine will come because incumbents chose not to run for re-election. That is more than one- third of the Legislature.

Veteran legislators fear this will leave the Legislature with inexperienced members who will be more susceptible to being influenced by lobbyists. A valid argument can be made that this is not only exaggerated, but that the result will be the opposite.

Among experienced lobbyists there probably is more concern that their influence initially will be diluted and will take time to re- establish. They are losing more than one-third of the members with whom they have well-established contacts and relations. These are legislators with whom they have worked, who know them and whether they can be trusted.

Instead they will be faced with the same number of new members whose faces and names will be unfamiliar to them, and with whom new relations will have to be developed. That is not done overnight, or even in one or two sessions.

Of all the things good lobbyists need, the two most important probably are knowledge of the members and information that comes from them. After lobbying for 30 years, I have not been active in that realm for nearly 12 years, and while the rules may have changed, many of the basic principles have not.

To a degree a dark side of lobbying exists, but I suspect only a very few lobbyists cut corners, skirt the intent if not the literal terms of the rules or go beyond the bounds of ethical and even legal standards imposed upon them. There are already penalties for doing so.

Much talk is made about lobbyist wining and dining and golfing with legislators. Certainly in the past it has been carried to extremes on occasion. New and stronger rules by the state Ethics Commission, while not perfect have worked to eliminate or at least minimize such abuses.

Does normal entertainment influence a legislator's vote? A long time ago a good lobbyist friend of mine put this in perspective.

Any vote I can buy for a steak dinner someone else can buy back for a bigger steak.

Few if any votes are swayed by this practice. It may have been true for other lobbyists, but I cannot recall any instance where I secured a legislator's vote while eating dinner with him or her. What I may have gotten is his or her perspective on legislation of interest to me.

Yes, many legislators like to be entertained, but most are more interested in what the people in their districts want. They are swayed more by the facts and information lobbyists have on a particular subject or issue.

Secondly, when a good lobbyist takes three or four legislators to dinner, chances are he/she will do far more listening than talking.

Legislators are as human as the rest of us. They like to be in the know. Because of their position, they have this opportunity. They also like to let people know this.

In short, they talk, usually about legislation or legislative matters. …

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