Korologos%20In%20defense%20of%20lobbyists%20copy - ...

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Unformatted text preview: OPINION MAY 30, 2008, page A15 In Defense of Lobbyists By TOM C. KOROLOGOS It is time to stop the bashing of "lobbyists" as evil incarnate. The First Amendment to the Constitution states unequivocally: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." This is about as clear a statement of first principles as has ever been made. Interesting, isn't it, that the Founding Fathers in that very First Amendment – and in the same print size and in the very same sentence as freedom of religion and speech and peaceful assembly – included specific language permitting all people to address the government to express their complaints or to advocate? So why do the pundits, political operatives and segments of the media look with suspicion on advocacy? Isn't everyone entitled to have his or her voice heard? Why should lobbying by Boeing or the American Petroleum Institute be bad and lobbying by the Friends of the Earth or the National Education Association pristine? Or lobbying by the National Association of Manufacturers or Chamber of Commerce unsavory, but lobbying by the Laborers International Union and AFL ­CIO virtuous? "Jack Abramoff! Jack Abramoff!" is now the catch ­phrase invoked by our friendly "reformers." No one will defend Abramoff's gross transgressions, but we need a new yardstick. Should we now start listing members of Congress who have abused their authority in the last decade alone? Or compile a similar list of judges, bankers, mortgage brokers, cops and rapacious corporate executives? The central point is that there are no more (nor fewer) lobbyists who have "crossed the line" than from any other walk of life. Today we can't eat, sleep, drink, buy eyeglasses, insurance or a car – or mow the lawn, drink a beer, cook a steak, ride a bike, or put raw eggs in a Caesar salad – without some federal regulation hovering over us. Is it any wonder that American workers, industries, school teachers, churches, veterans, medical personnel, retired people, environmentalists, social workers, even state governments feel they should have a presence in Washington to protect them? There are now more than 35,000 registered lobbyists in Washington. We are represented from the cradle to the grave. There is a pediatric doctor lobby and a casket manufacturers' lobby. A to Z? Just look and you will find an asphalt lobby and a zipper lobby. Soup to nuts? Campbell's and Planters are here for the looking. I can't think of a single sector of the American economy that directly or indirectly doesn't have some sort of Washington representation. And that's good for the Republic. Isn't it wise, or at least fair, that Congress and policy makers hear all sides of every issue? Congress and executive ­branch agencies actually depend on lobbyists to present complete and detailed information. There's nowhere else they can get the total range of data they require to set intelligent policy or draft prudent legislation. Do we want an even larger bureaucracy doing this? Where better to get data on concrete roads versus blacktop roads than from your friendly concrete ­road representative or friendly asphalt lobbyist? Who knows more about the cheese industry than your favorite cheese lobbyist? Substitute oil, salt, wine, lumber, wool, steel, watches, coal or rat poison and the point remains. The coin of the realm in the lobbying business is trust and respect. The end of a lobbyist's career is swift if he deceives or leaves unsaid a salient fact about an issue. I have gone so far as to chase members of Congress down in airports, meetings or dinners to make corrections in a fact gleaned from the chemists, geologists or engineers who are the experts and who put our data together. The lobbyist also provides legislative strategies and information and advice to our clients on how the federal government works. When you break your arm, you go to your doctor; when you need Washington help, you call your lobbyist. The concept of entitling citizens to petition their government did not originate with the authors of the Constitution. It was the product of centuries of Western political thought. The Athenians of the 6th century B.C. instituted the right of an aggrieved party to have a case pleaded before the state by a third party. The Magna Carta included the right of the country's nobility to petition the throne. Christopher Columbus lobbied Isabella for the appropriations (probably the first U.S. ­related earmark) for the boats to undertake his historic voyage. The attempt – as my late friend and lobbying mentor, Bryce Harlow once put it – "to uncheck the checks and imbalance the balances" started a long time ago, and will be around for a long time to come. But if you're really in a hurry to be free of lobbyists, there's always North Korea. Mr. Korologos, recently U.S. ambassador to Belgium, was with Timmons and Co., a major federal lobbying firm for 29 years. He is now a strategic adviser at DLAPiper in Washington, D.C. ...
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