Lobbying in the Public Interest

Note: From the Eyes of the Editors will be a recurring post each week. From our team of editors, who spend hundreds of hours scouring thousands of lobbying registrations and filings, these pieces will look at common errors, misperceptions, and ways to improve your understanding of lobbyist filings.

Last week it was reported that Washington-based non-profit Public Citizen approached retiring senators and congressmen, suggesting that they sign a pledge promising to avoid future jobs with lobbying firms.  In a bit of humorous commentary, The Huffington Post noted that the spokeswoman for Public Citizen, the very woman leading the charge against public servants becoming lobbyists, is herself a registered lobbyist.  Her response was “I’m like a people’s lobbyist.”

This got me thinking, “Aren’t all lobbyists representative of the people?” In reality, each lobbyist on K St. is representing the interests of some person or some group of like-minded individuals.  In fact, of the thousands of lobbying reports I have read, the only client I have encountered that seems to include no people is a filing on behalf of “Boo,” a family dog from Staten Island who is being represented on a number of issues including disaster planning, housing, and animals (obviously).

Lobbyists represent groups of American citizens. For example, former Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) represented Cleveland in the House for 30 years and is now Senior Counsel at Squire, Sanders, and Dempsey.  Though he has left Congress, Stokes is still representing Cleveland on the Hill through one of his clients, the Cuyahoga County Board of County Commissioners.  While in the House, Stokes represented one area of the city.  By now lobbying for the entire county, Stokes essentially represents twice the number of people he did as a Congressman.  Given the role that the county plays in the entire region, one could argue that the number of people his actions affect has  quadrupled.  Now in my opinion,  Cleveland, though it has its problems like all places, is the greatest city in the country.

As a lobbyist, former Rep. Stokes is able to continue representing his hometown as he lobbies on issues including alcohol and drug abuse, economic development, and water quality.  And, given that the Cuyahoga River is about to enter its 41st fire-free year, I can only assume that he’s doing a good job.  Also, go Cavaliers!

Members opting to lobby makes sense.  Lobbyists can work to serve the needs of former constituents, hometowns, home states, and the variety of industries that play integral roles in the daily lives of Americans.  Former Members intimately understand the legal process and how to disseminate information on the Hill.  Lobbyists don’t inherently serve the forces of evil and former Members who become lobbyists are no exception.  Besides, all citizens have the right to petition their government.  Should former Members be asked to sign away that right?

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