You can buy anything in this world for money, and lobbyists are buying more and more all the time. They are buying access, and access provides an opportunity for influence.
Money is the bottom line. Money buys access. Access and more money for campaigns develop political friendships. Eventually those friends come calling to exert influence. The formula is that simple, and more and more lobbyists are putting it to use.
Government attracts lobbyists like an ice cream truck attracts kids on a hot summer afternoon. There was no greater example than the recent meeting of Republican governors in California for their annual conference.
The lobbyists were there by the hundreds. The conference had a record 78 sponsors, who each kicked in $1,000-$30,000 to pay for the event. This was after paying a $5,000-$100,000 membership fee to the Republican Governor’s Association just to be on an elite list. There were plenty of non-sponsoring lobbyists in attendance as well. They were all competing for the same prize — access.
Members of that list have greater access to the governors than anyone else, including voters. The elite are invited to private events where they can spend time socializing with governors and their staffs. It’s not surprising how popular golf is with this crowd. They pay very high fees for the privilege of riding in a golf cart with a governor for four hours.
And why not? If you want to influence a politician, it is much easier to accomplish on a golf course than it is by sending him a letter.
The companies they represent carefully choose lobbyists. They are assigned to a specific elected leader and they go to work on him or her. Everything they do, every expense they incur is simply an investment in their long-term goal. A lobbyist’s candidate who wins an election is a successful investment in the eyes of the lobbyist’s employer.
If particular elected leaders like sports, they will have tickets to any event they would like. If they have a family with kids, they can expect tickets to the circus, ice shows, and other family events. The lobbyist will learn everything about his assigned leaders and will become a friend. Often those friendships become so close that the elected leaders routinely call the lobbyist for advice. When that happens the lobbyist knows he has the politician where he wants him.
A good lobbyist will help obtain political consultants for campaigns, donor lists, and other non-competing lobbyists who will provide more of the same. Often a lobbyist will help obtain donations from key individuals to help a candidate keep a clean looking donor list devoid of corporate names. Creative ways will be found to launder money and keep those donor lists looking squeaky-clean.
A lobbyist is viewed as more than just a source of funds for a campaign. Candidates see lobbyists as a tremendous resource for everything they need to win, stay in office, and then move higher. Constituents mean nothing to someone in elected office. Lobbyists are the ones they bend over backwards to please.
I’m not picking on the Republican governors. It just happens that they had their convention earlier this month. You will not usually find the same individual lobbyists hanging around with the Democrats, but you will find their colleagues representing the same corporate entities or causes.
When it comes to lobbying, it’s an equal opportunity affair. Often a company will spend as much on Democrats as they do on Republicans. It makes perfect sense from a business point of view. It doesn’t matter who is in office as long as you get what you want.
And thus we get to the real problem. Business has no morals, and neither do the people who lobby elected officials for those businesses. Lobbyists aren’t really your friend, Mr. Governor. Lose the next election and you’ll find out very quickly that the lobbyists do not court you any more. Everything dries up if you’re not a winner.
Elected officials like the treatment and the lifestyle. They like the attention and the power they control. But the real power belongs to the lobbyists. They hold the keys to the doors politicians want to open. Lobbyists are a necessary part of the political process as it exists today.
Activists are at a decided disadvantage. Activists do not make friends with politicians. Activists usually have an adversarial relationship rather than a friendly one with the elected leaders they are trying to influence.
Activists think that if they have proof and a good argument for their cause they will win. Activists think that if they have enough public support they will win.
If the cause of an activist competes with the needs of a lobbyist, the lobbyist will win every time — despite public sentiments.
Until the day comes that lobbyists and corrupt politicians who are influenced by them are tossed out on their ears, activists will need to change their strategy if they want to gain more success.
Activists need to find ways to become a positive resource to elected leaders and candidates. They need to gain access, develop a relationship, gain trust, and provide a resource of donors and supporters at campaign time. Lobbyists know that first they must develop a relationship before they can exert influence. Activists must learn the same thing.
Campaign reform is a joke. It’s not going to happen in a realistic sense because there are too many politicians with too much to lose. They may give a good speech about it, and they might actually file some bills to make it look like they are trying, but in the end nothing meaningful will happen.
Constituents and activists need to rethink their approach, and they must be willing to compete with the lobbyists in a way that has potential for success. It requires time, effort, and sacrifice, but without it there is little hope to obtain what all those lobbyists value so very highly — access.