Lobbyists unfairly blamed, prof. says
By Conrad Scoville, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, September 25, 2009
Lobbyists are often unfairly blamed for many of Washington’s ills, Rockefeller Center associate director Ronald Shaiko said in a Constitution Day lecture, “Petitioning Government: Interest Groups, Lobbying, and the First Amendment,” on Thursday.
Although the lobbying industry is often faulted for many of the government’s problems, lobbyists should not be blamed exclusively, Shaiko said.
“There are bad eggs, but I tend not to scapegoat the lobbying industry when things go wrong in Washington,” he said.
AARP, which works in the interest of those over age 50, is an example of an interest that serves a beneficial purpose, Shaiko said.
“Should they have impact in the policy process?,” he said. “Why not? They clearly represent a big group. Should they be punished because those under 30 [years old] have no such group? I don’t think so.”
There are three ways for interest groups to lobby government, Shaiko said. The first of these, direct representation, involves physically advocating for a cause in Washington, he said.
Organizations ranging from corporations and labor unions to the National Mushroom Institute and the American Butter Institute have a lobbying presence in Washington, Shaiko said.
“So you can see that it’s not just the big boys that are playing in Washington,” he said.
Interest groups also rely on surrogate representation, in which an organization hires a firm to lobby on its behalf, Shaiko said. These include multi-client lobbying firms, law firms and so called “megafirms,” he said.
Electoral representation involves lobbying by any group that is legally sanctioned to campaign and accept donations on behalf of a cause, which includes political action committees and tax-exempt 501(c)and 527 organizations. All three can accept money and campaign on behalf of an interest, though they can do so to varying degrees, Shaiko said.
Non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations, however, cannot petition in this way, he said. For example, it is illegal for campaign posters to be placed on most College-owned property at Dartmouth, a 501(c)(3) organization.
Shaiko said the current political climate, and particularly the debate over health care reform, makes lobbying a relevant topic.
“I thought, today the topic of petitioning government was a useful one to think about,” he said. “In the sense that we have a health care debate going on right now and literally scores of organized interest groups are busy trying to convey their ideas and convince policy makers both in Congress and in the White House as to what would be fair and proper for our health care reform agenda that’s going on.”
While he largely defended the lobbying process, Shaiko offered criticism of the system when asked by a member of the audience what he would improve.
Members of Congress should not be allowed to solicit money from registered lobbyists, Shaiko said, describing campaign contributions by lobbyists as “the piece that’s most troubling.”
Lobbyists should also not be allowed to direct political action committees, he said
The lobbying industry is based on defending the status quo, Shaiko said, explaining, “Their goal at the end of the day is having nothing happen.”