The real problem isn’t lobbyists, it’s lobbying rules

Thomas Spulak, writing in The Hill on Monday, made some fantastic points about problems facing the lobbying industry right now. Lobbyists are de-registering in droves, he says–a result of stricter HLOGA rules and the rush of anti-lobbyist sentiment stemming from Obama’s ongoing campaign against the industry.

Singling out lobbyists is, in fact, a source of the sense of corruption the administration is seeking to end. Spulak writes:

The singling out of lobbyists and the attendant attachment of the Scarlet L has caused individuals to seek loopholes and exceptions to avoid registration. When someone, no less than the president of the United States, says lobbyists are bad, who would want to be one? It is ironic that those who want to go beyond the letter of the law and adhere to its spirit by registering are thrown into a class subject to suspicion and disdain by the leaders of our government.

The problem, Spulak says, is that demonizing an entire profession does us all harm because there will always be lobbyists; the right to lobby is, after all, protected by the Constitution. Further, not all lobbyists are advocating for “evil corporate interests”–there are lobbyists for Boy Scouts! And whales! And poor people! And puppies! Spulak says it best:

There will always be lobbyists; they are mere advocates for interests. Certainly, not all interests are as popular as others, but shouldn’t unpopular causes have a chance to be heard? Government officials can always ignore what they hear or even refuse to meet with certain industries or interests. That has always been the case anyway. Continuing to rail against lobbyists may be good political fodder in the short term, but in the long run it creates a false sense of corruption in Washington that makes all government officials guilty by association with the bogeyman that they created.

A blog post on OMB Watch (“Greater Disclosure Reduces Sense of Corruption”) makes an excellent point to complete this discussion: instead of demonizing an industry which may have some bad actors but overall offers a necessary democratic service, let’s move towards improving the disclosure system to obviate the impulse for corruption in the first place. “The registration process is cumbersome and unevenly recorded by the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate,” OMB writes. “And don’t try getting information out of those systems … the demand should be focused on better systems of disclosure.”


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