Why do lobbyists get such a bad rep?

Guess that quote origin again, folks:

“It is of serious interest to the country that the people at large should have no lobby and be voiceless in these matters, while great bodies of astute men seek to create an artificial opinion, and to overcome the interests of the public for their private profit. It is thoroughly worth the while of the people of this country to take knowledge of this matter. Only public opinion can check and destroy it.”

Serious stuff, hunh? Undoubtedly related to the Jack Abramoff scandal and the recent outrage over the influence of “special interests”?

Or maybe President Obama, speaking about his Administration’s policy to bar lobbyists from working in his White House (which, then, of course, immediately included some exceptions, in the realization that, for example, crafting immigration policy without the insight of Cecilia Muñoz, former lobbyist for National Council of La Raza, would be a bit unnecessarily difficult)?

Or, try, Woodrow Wilson, May 1913, speaking almost 100 years ago about an issue that, certainly, has not abated from the public agenda in the intervening century.

But, as I’ve written at some points in the past, this is something I’m conflicted about.

I mean, to me, the real problem isn’t the influence of lobbyists, who, in many cases, are knowledgeable professionals who play an integral role guiding elected officials through the myriad of complex policy issues on which they must decide (would anyone like to see what policy 90+ new Missouri legislators would come up with this year without someone around who has been there for more than a month?).

The real problem is the oppressive, and distorting, power of money, and the fact that some lobbyists have disproportionate authority not so much because of their own influence but because of the moneyed movers and shakers they represent.

And, so, that’s why I always get nervous with this “anti-lobbyist” talk.

I mean, I called myself a lobbyist for many years, was a registered lobbyist, and believe(d) very strongly that my lobbying was the best way for me to serve my clients, and, indeed, my country. I absolutely influenced legislation, and legislators, and convinced people to take stands that they would not have taken without my efforts. I changed votes, on multiple occasions, and I used every tool I could think of to do so.

Does that make me part of the creation of an “artificial opinion”? Was I distorting the process? Or, in fact, are we misplacing our angers when we take aim at lobbyists instead of those who sometimes hire them? Why do we decry the yeoman’s work of those who monitor legislation, provide counsel to confused or conflicted policymakers, and interpret the policy process for lay men and women in their home constituencies, rather than focus our energies on the campaign finance system that allows vested interests to buy their lobbyists greater access and control?

I know that those who talk about “special interests” don’t necessarily mean low-income communities with nonprofit lobbyist representation. I certainly never had campaign contributions (or free tickets to anything) to throw around. I usually bummed a Diet Coke from a state senator friend of mine. But I did try everything I could, and worked long and hard, to change the outcomes in the legislature, and I was focused on the relatively narrow interests of my target constituency when I did that (believing, of course, that the polity as a whole would benefit, but I bet some of the corporate lobbyists would say that, too!).

That makes me a lobbyist.

But it doesn’t make me ashamed.

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