For many people lobbying has become a dirty word, alluding to professional government insiders who pull the strings in a defunct Washington. In the ongoing presidential campaigns we have heard candidates from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump condemn the industry saying, ““I know the system better than anybody. The fact is that whether it’s Jeb, or Hillary, or any of ’em—they’re all controlled by these people! And the people that control them are the special interests, the lobbyists and the donors.” However, we know that this is not the case for majority of government relations professionals. I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to Connie Tipton, President and CEO, International Dairy Foods Association discuss our right to petition the government and the value of lobbying before the American Society of Association Executives’ (ASAE) 2016 Americans Associations Day on the Hill. In her remarks Ms. Tipton did a terrific job of explaining our right to lobby and its value.
Remarks by Connie Tipton, American Society of Association Executives Washington, DC Fly-In, American Associations Day, March 9-10, 2016
“We also have the freedoms granted us in the United States Constitution. Most notable, at least for our purpose at this conference, is our First Amendment right to freedom of speech and to petition our government.
Let’s consider these constitutional freedoms separately for a moment. Free speech is frequently hailed as an unassailable right, supported by many Americans even when they don’t agree with what’s being said.
But petitioning our government through issue advocacy, or lobbying, seems to always get thrown under the proverbial bus as something evil. Even the term “lobbying” has taken on a sinister meaning for some, especially in recent political campaigns.
In fact, President Obama took villainizing lobbyists to a new level when he came to the White House. He loudly threatened that he would bar any former lobbyist from serving in his administration and made sure no one with a lobbying background could serve on any advisory committees. As you may have guessed, that eliminates a lot of extremely qualified and well informed people, so in the end, it was a threat he found impossible to stick with, but he succeeded in putting another black mark on the name of lobbying.
Even in the current presidential primaries, lobbyists are often served up as something corrupt or unscrupulous. Of course there have been “bad apples,” just as there are in any profession or political campaign, for that matter, but the work of our government relies on people representing their interests and those of their constituents in order to arrive at the best outcomes on policies. There is no way members of Congress can imagine all of the tangential impacts a particular proposal may have when it’s put into law. Informing them of the nuances only someone steeped in a particular issue or industry would know is our right and responsibility; that’s why you’re here – and why it is important to share your stories.
It is our right as American citizens to advocate for our interests with our elected officials and to try to have a real impact on the policies and programs that govern our lives.
As Americans we are very fortunate, indeed, to have these freedoms to invest in endeavors we enjoy and believe in, to associate with others we agree with, and to use our collective voices to make a difference in policies that will shape our future.
I have served for a number of years on the board of the Bryce Harlow Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships to people pursuing advanced degrees that will help them in careers as business advocates. Bryce Harlow was an early leader in providing and promoting business advocacy with integrity. Before he became a lobbyist, he worked in the Eisenhower White House as the first congressional liaison. And he spoke often of the importance of maintaining relationships with members of Congress.
In a 1965 speech about business advocacy, Harlow said, it “is not simply good citizenship, it is hardheaded realism. It often means dollars and cents in profits. It may well mean avoidance of economic disaster.” And then he continued, “Many are the times that it means keeping the ‘free’ in free enterprise.”
Simply put, lobbying is advocating a particular point of view. Lobbying is a legitimate and necessary part of our democratic political process. Government decisions affect both people and organizations, and public officials cannot make fair and informed decisions without considering information from a broad range of interested parties. All sides of an issue must be explored to produce equitable government policies.”