Join 3,438 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Congress Plus
September 21, 2013 9:19 PM   Subscribe

The Hill’s Megan Wilson, based on documents leaked on Monday, reports that the American League of Lobbyists (ALL) is considering dropping "lobbyist" from its name. "The organization confirmed to The Hill it is 'discussing a rebranding,' and is taking 'baby steps' toward that goal. Top choices for a replacement name include The Association of Government Relations Professionals, The National Association of Government Relations Professionals and the Government Relations Professionals Association, 'based on board meetings and emails,' the document says."

In a letter to its membership obtained by Politico, former ALL President Howard Marlowe says in part:

"Let there be no doubt, we will always retain the missions of defining and defending the role of lobbyists, of protecting everyone’s First Amendment rights to 'seek redress of grievances,' and of leading the way to ensuring that our colleagues always adhere to the highest ethical standards."

According to the documents, top choices for a new name include The Association of Government Relations Professionals, The National Association of Government Relations Professionals and the Government Relations Professionals Association. The NYT offers another suggestion.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (40 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Sorry about the copy-paste hiccup above and below the fold.)
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:20 PM on September 21, 2013


A rose lobbyist by any other name would smell as___________ {fill in the blank}.
posted by HuronBob at 9:24 PM on September 21, 2013


The National Association of Government Relations Professionals

Or NAMBLA.
posted by dry white toast at 9:28 PM on September 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


So we should call them Al? {cues horn section}. {Pages Chevy Chase}
posted by jeribus at 9:31 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Association of Professionals at having Relations with Governments
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:34 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


What, did MGM refuse to license the rights to SPECTRE?
posted by Behemoth at 9:34 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.
posted by double block and bleed at 9:34 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I'll say it again, I did not have professional relations with that government."
posted by zamboni at 9:42 PM on September 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


The National Association of Porcine Cosmetologists
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:47 PM on September 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


National Association for the Advancement of Corrupt People
Legislature Buyers United
Association of Palm Lubrication Technicians
Justice Arbitrageurs, Llc.
Jurisprud-pimps
The Back-Scratch Reciprocation Alliance
The Father of All Lies, Washington Office
Backsheesh n' Stuff
The Constitution-Fuckers' League
I Can't Believe It's Democracy!
Accessholes
posted by PlusDistance at 9:56 PM on September 21, 2013 [19 favorites]


dry white toast: "The National Association of Government Relations Professionals

Or NAMBLA.
"

They're not killers!
posted by symbioid at 9:57 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I recommend The Justice League.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:55 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Legislators R Us.
posted by Goofyy at 11:27 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Representative Rental Service
posted by double block and bleed at 11:36 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I like "The National Organization of Soulless Whores". It's rough, I know, but I just need to run it by the imagineers for a clean-up.
posted by Samizdata at 12:15 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Government Relations Association for Service Professionals, or GRASP
posted by jiawen at 12:25 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Government Organization for Active Territorial Senatorial Effects?

(It's weak, but y'all can work out the acronym.)
posted by Samizdata at 12:39 AM on September 22, 2013


I'm a lobbyist, ask me anything. (Well, I used to be a lobbyist; I don't meet the time requirements anymore.) That's basically all it takes to meet the registration thresholds/be a lobbyist--you spend 20 percent of your paid work time attempting to convince congressional offices to do something. In my case, that has included, among other things, passing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, enacting explicit habeas corpus protections, legislation explicitly outlawing torture, reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, reauthorizing the ADA, hell, even trying to amend the Federal Arbitration Act to prohibit mandatory binding arbitration clauses. (I never claimed I was a hugely successful lobbyist.) I did this all while working for nonprofits--very little room in the salary to budget for cigars, cognac, and top hats, alas. Thankfully, mua-ha-haing is still free. There are certainly problems with huge amounts of money and revolving doors and influence peddling, but I also know a lot of other lobbyists who work for organizations like the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Lambda, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, NAACP and on so forth who are lobbyists BECAUSE they believe passionately in a cause.

I realize that ALL is a professional interest group and is thus more, well, interested in protecting the monied classes of the industry, but as someone who once upon a time said "lobbyist" when asked what I did for a living, I understand their angst. I'm pretty sure I'm not a grasping, murdering, soulless whore. I'm also in law, so I guess I should figure out a third industry--pharmaceuticals?--to go for a most-reviled trifecta. (Well, to get that, I guess I could just make the jump to being a congressional staffer, or better/worse yet, full-on MoC.)
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 12:43 AM on September 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


We know there are good lobbyists, HonoriaGlossop*. But the bad ones seem way over-represented in influence, probably because of the big corporate dollars behind them. You do good work, but you are severely outnumbered.

* Great name!
posted by JHarris at 1:14 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


the bad ones seem way over-represented in influence, probably because of the big corporate dollars behind them.

Maybe? I mean, they certainly get a lion's share of the press, that's for certain.

But that's because the work of your average lobbyist is actually excruciatingly boring. Lobbyists aren't just palm-greasers. They also serve as important, even vital sources of information for legislators who are just trying to do an honest job.

How? Well, here's the thing: say you're a newly-elected congresscritter. There's a decent shot that you've spent most of your life in politics, so your practical, first-hand knowledge of how things work is largely limited to that. But let's even assume that you come from outside politics, so you haven't spent your entire life in a political bubble and have some actual, practical experience with whatever job you've worked for a decade or two. That's great and all, but now you're expected to propose, respond to, amend, and vote on legislation about everything. Maybe you're even on a committee, and almost regardless what that committee is, it's jurisdiction is a subject about which you could not be more clueless.

What are you supposed to do?

Well one option is to spend a few months bringing yourself up to speed on the issues. Except that's not really an option, because (1) you have votes coming up this week, so you don't have that kind of time even if you wanted to, and (2) there are so many different issues which merit that kind of treatment that there simply aren't enough hours in the day even if the next vote was a year away.

The other option is to ask people concerned with the issue to bring you up to speed. I.e., you consult a lobbyist. This is why industry trade groups exist: to communicate the desires and positions of their respective industries to congresscritters looking for information. It's also why public interest and citizens' groups exist: to provide a source of counter-programming to the industry groups, and to provide information about issues which industry doesn't care about.

Now granted, there are absolutely lobbyists who pursue their jobs with only the vaguest fig-leaf of a euphemism between them and outright graft. But there are a ton who spend their time interfacing with their clients/constituents, writing papers and reports, and presenting said writings to legislators and staffers, all in ways that even the most ardent anti-corruption activist could only applaud.

All of which to say that despite the inherent dangers of conflicts of interest and outright corruption, there really isn't any way to run a republican form of government in a non-agrarian society that does not rely heavily on lobbyists. We could maybe tweak things around the edges a bit, and the "revolving door" between government and lobbying firms is of particular concern, but there's just no way of getting competent legislation, let alone good legislation, in any other way.
posted by valkyryn at 3:41 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I did not have government relations with that woman."
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 4:18 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


valkyryn: Maybe? I mean, they certainly get a lion's share of the press, that's for certain.

I am not prepared to speak lightly about the gigantic negative effect that lobbyists have on our political process. Their entire purpose is to exert influence over our government in exchange for money. As such, they are a primary mechanism through which our systems are corrupted against the will of the people.

Well one option is to spend a few months bringing yourself up to speed on the issues. [...] The other option is to ask people concerned with the issue to bring you up to speed.

That's a false dilemma. You have staffers, have them do some of your research for you. Or go to your constituents. Or maybe spend some time with Wikipedia. Relying on lobbyists to fill in those gaps is the political version of a film critic going to a buffet hosted by movie studios: their motives are suspect, to say the least.

While there are a lot of issues, that the most important ones all seem to get decided the same way by the folks in power, in favor of the wealthiest interests, suggests strongly that lobbying has way too much influence.

This is why industry trade groups exist: to communicate the desires and positions of their respective industries to congresscritters looking for information. It's also why public interest and citizens' groups exist: to provide a source of counter-programming to the industry groups, and to provide information about issues which industry doesn't care about.

Yes, I am not fond of this thinking. In this battle the interests of industry are vastly overrepresented, because they have much much more money to wield. This "counter-programming" is woefully inadequate. As if the public interest could be served by the equivalent of an equal time op-ed.

Now granted, there are absolutely lobbyists who pursue their jobs with only the vaguest fig-leaf of a euphemism between them and outright graft.

You don't have to go nearly that far for excessive lobbying to cause serious problems with our representative government. The atmosphere of cronyism, the promise of a job after Congress, and the familiarity between lobbyists and congresspeople, these things may seem above-board at first but give rise to an insular culture and tremendous, stultifying institutional inertia.

But there are a ton who spend their time interfacing with their clients/constituents, writing papers and reports, and presenting said writings to legislators and staffers, all in ways that even the most ardent anti-corruption activist could only applaud.

I would think the most ardent anti-corruption activists would disagree with this statement.

All of which to say that despite the inherent dangers of conflicts of interest and outright corruption, there really isn't any way to run a republican form of government in a non-agrarian society that does not rely heavily on lobbyists.

I am going to disagree with this statement generally, because it is a huge assertion and there might be any number of solutions that no one has yet thought of. Yet even if it is true, it's still true that, by acting as the fundamental mechanism by which money is multiplied and translated into power over our elected officials, it is a matter of grave concern for all of us. Lobbying must be reined in.
posted by JHarris at 4:37 AM on September 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


That's a false dilemma.

No, it isn't really.

You have staffers, have them do some of your research for you. Or go to your constituents.

How, exactly? Say you're looking at a law relating to, oh, I don't know, regulation of the internet. You need to know how proposed legislation (1) might affect the industry, (2) what industry thinks about that, and (3) what consumers think about that.

How do you go about researching that, pray tell? Ask every single company what they think? Ask every single consumer/constituent what they think? Do extensive research studies on the subject?

You're asking that staffers do the equivalent of a Ph.D. thesis every damn time a new subject comes up. It's not realistic.

Further, the very information and research you're talking about can only be acquired by asking people with a vested interest in the outcome. A lobbyist basically permits you to ask the entire industry by asking a single person. You'd get basically the same answer if you went around and asked each stakeholder individually, but you don't have time for that.

Nor would massively expanding the size of the Hill staff make a difference. All you'd be doing is adding an additional layer of bureaucracy--and thus an additional opportunity for influence--between industry and voters on one side, and legislators on the other. Industry and voters would still group themselves together in lobbying efforts, the only difference would be that they'd be feeding their agendas to some kind of officially-sanctioned research arm of Congress rather than to congressional staffs directly. Hideously expensive, horribly inefficient, and likely to produce even more of the same kind of perverse incentives as exist under the current system.

Or maybe spend some time with Wikipedia.

Yeah, because that's a reliable and objective source of information, I tell you what.

Relying on lobbyists to fill in those gaps is the political version of a film critic going to a buffet hosted by movie studios: their motives are suspect, to say the least.

That is as may be, but you've failed to describe any realistic way of acquiring the information desired in a reasonable amount of time.

You don't have to go nearly that far for excessive lobbying to cause serious problems with our representative government.

No, you don't. But I think that's an inherent drawback of representative government, and you have yet to describe a viable alternative.

I would think the most ardent anti-corruption activists would disagree with this statement.

No, they wouldn't, because they're probably lobbyists themselves.

Lobbying must be reined in.

Perhaps, but I'm not sure that the results will be what you want them to be.

For example, let's look at the problem of the tight relationship between industry and regulatory agencies. That's problematic. Agency capture is real. But the alternative is requiring that the people who run agencies don't know shit about said agencies' subject matter. It's kind of like objecting to hiring a plumber to fix your pipes because plumbers charge too much and you don't like unions anyway. Both of those things may be true, but they're still the right guys for the job.
posted by valkyryn at 5:45 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't understand why having a job in an industry is the only way to understand an industry. Presumably drug court prosecutors don't have to have experience importing coke right?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:28 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The other option is to ask people concerned with the issue to bring you up to speed. I.e., you consult a lobbyist. This is why industry trade groups exist: to communicate the desires and positions of their respective industries to congresscritters looking for information.

You know what else exists to serve congresscritters looking for information? The Library of Congress. And should you not be able to send one of your office's many paid staffers there to do your research, they also have a nonpartisen research office that will happily do all the legwork for you and answer whatever questions you might have.

I guess lobbyists serve a purpose in calling attention to various issues, but to suggest that they serve some vital function informing congress is repugnant.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:54 AM on September 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


But it's the rationale that makes people feel okay about participating in an extraconstitutional system that more often than not amounts to a retail market for political influence. Of course if you believe it's the only way the system could work you won't feel so bad about participating in it, evidence that the general effect is to skew the entire process toward whatever side has the most money to spend be damned. Something something about believing whatever it takes as long as your job depends on it.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:20 AM on September 22, 2013


That's a false dilemma. You have staffers, have them do some of your research for you.

And they certainly do. Your staffer is, say, 24 years old and smart but not an expert on everything in her legislative portfolio, which includes, say, civil liberties, reproductive rights, children's issues, election and campaign finance reform, intellectual property, the Postal Service, and other odds and ends. She does research on these issues and more (and makes use of the excellent CRS reports available to her), not just for the purpose of providing vote recommendations to her boss but also writing responses to thousands of constituent letters, making personal phone calls to constituents, and meeting with constituents who come to DC. She works long hours and she cares about her boss doing the right thing. Because there's a lot going on and only so may hours in the day, a reputable organization explaining a complex issue with a 15-minute meeting and a one page fact sheet can be a big help, or can get your staffer (and thereby you) excited about an issue neither of you knew were aware of before. Your staffer's job isn't always to have intimate expertise on everything, but to try to assess the quality of the arguments presented.

When I was a House legislative aide, the above hodge-podge (plus some things I'm sure I'm forgetting) was my actual list of issues covered. It's a short list of mostly minor issues (nothing related to my boss's committee assignments) because I was also the person in charge of constituent mail (which could be a full-time job itself). Some of my issues I was passionate about from the start (reproductive rights), some of them took me a while to get interested in (Postal Service - actually turned out to be pretty fascinating), some of them I never really understood (intellectual property - I don't know why they didn't just give this one to the one lawyer on staff). I frequently met with people who probably meet the definition of "lobbyist," and my favorites to meet with included Planned Parenthood, SisterSong, Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, the Postal Workers Union, PIRG, and Public Citizen (the last of two of which helped spark my interest in public financing for political campaigns, which I then got my boss interested in). And sometimes these organizations brought along constituents, who alone might not have had the knowledge or confidence to arrange an in-person meeting in their representative's office.

I know there is a lot more to the wide world of lobbying than what I was exposed to and that as a low-level staffer working for a relatively powerless freshman congressman on issues no one else in the office wanted, I was not remotely of interest to any of the people we usually think of as lobbyists. But I just want to reiterate that a plenty "lobbying" is also what HonoriaGlossop and I described: people with a good cause educating spread-thin staffers and connecting real people with their representatives.

your office's many paid staffers

Every office is different, but mine had 8 staffers in DC, 4 of those on the legislative team. I don't know if you consider this "many" or not, but just wanted to provide some numbers.
posted by naoko at 7:37 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


You're asking that staffers do the equivalent of a Ph.D. thesis every damn time a new subject comes up. It's not realistic.

Then what is? Presumably we're electing people to represent us and make informed decisions on our behalf. If they're not up for the challenge of doing that without running to lobbyists for the cliff notes at every turn, then maybe we need to adjust their job descriptions.

Further, the very information and research you're talking about can only be acquired by asking people with a vested interest in the outcome. A lobbyist basically permits you to ask the entire industry by asking a single person. You'd get basically the same answer if you went around and asked each stakeholder individually, but you don't have time for that.

No, you wouldn't. You'd only get the same answer from those stakeholders who are represented by the lobbyist you asked. Lobbyists provide an obvious sampling bias, and if you're turning to them for anything more than insight into what they'd personally like you to do, you're doing it wrong.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:38 AM on September 22, 2013


The... organization formerly known as Blackwater has attempted to further cover its tracks by again changing its name from Xe to Academi.

So I guess they'd now be free to call themselves Xe.

(Altria is still being used by the former Phillip Morris, but I'm sure they'll be moving to something else real soon now as well.)

(And honestly, how long before the NSA changes its name? Probably to something like Daisi Group.)
posted by Naberius at 8:12 AM on September 22, 2013


Professional Reacharounders Instigating Congressional Kisses and Strokes

PRICKS
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:59 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is a tremendous difference in getting your knowledgeable research staff to investigate various options, notions, and gee-gaws relating to your constituents, and having several mega-industry shills tell you which regulations to pass that would optimize their profits.

I nominate calling them the following: W.M.Y.S Ass'n. (We Move - You Shake Ass'n)

Or, what Benny said.
posted by mule98J at 10:00 AM on September 22, 2013


They also serve as important, even vital sources of information for legislators who are just trying to do an honest job.

Yyyyeah, sometimes, but you're overstating the informational demands on the job, especially for floor voting (Kingdon 1973 is still sort of half-accurate but doesn't pay enough attention to party and committee for the postreform House)

If your constituents tend to be strongly concerned about some issue, you'll know (and probably vote that way). If that's not the case, there are still easy partisan cues to follow most of the time, and the rest of the time there are probably easy cues to follow from committee members of your own party, and finally if all else fails you can take cues from co-partisans from similar districts.

The informational effects of lobbyists tend to be more strongly concentrated among the people writing the legislation, with the current best conception probably being the model where lobbyists supply some of the effort of policymaking and especially politics-making (ie supplying arguments etc) (see "legislative subsidy") so that subcommittee chairs and people like that have more time and resources to expend on other issues.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:27 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Presumably we're electing people to represent us and make informed decisions on our behalf. If they're not up for the challenge of doing that

Doing that would be fundamentally impossible for any human. Luckily, casting almost exactly the same string of votes as they would if they were fully informed is a lot easier than actually becoming fully informed on all possible issues.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:30 AM on September 22, 2013


We all listen to lobbyists all the time. Some call them the press.

Really I reserve my right to join a group and pay someone to talk to elected officials for me or I will talk for myself if I want. It's called the first amendment.

As to the folks who think it is easy to have all the information all the time, why would you be on metafilter if it was that easy? Just thinking perhaps oversimplification but constituents think a lot of things having been informed by the press. Are they right or did someone get the press on their side...and how? Are we full circle yet?
posted by OhSusannah at 4:14 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


>Presumably we're electing people to represent us and make informed decisions on our behalf. If they're not up for the challenge of doing that

Doing that would be fundamentally impossible for any human.


Precisely. A legislature of general national jurisdiction manned by human beings cannot possibly do all of its own research.

Luckily, casting almost exactly the same string of votes as they would if they were fully informed is a lot easier than actually becoming fully informed on all possible issues.

That is kind of a drawback, but yeah. Turns out most legislators would vote the same way whether or not they're fully informed. This is probably a bad thing, but said bad thing is not lobbying but an inherent feature of representative politics, particularly in a functionally two-party system.
posted by valkyryn at 8:21 AM on September 23, 2013


We all listen to lobbyists all the time. Some call them the press.

This is an extremely broad interpretation of what "lobbying" means that could cover virtually anything.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:55 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The biases of a lobbyist are not invisible. When a staffer meets with someone on an issue, they are often asked what other groups support this position and if they are aware of any groups that oppose it.

CRS wrote a report on a topic related to what my organization does. They met with our lobbyist who provided them with lots of information, including the names of organizations that disagree with us.

(I am not a registered lobbyist. I have participated in lobbying. I work for an organization that employs registered lobbyists. I am friends with lobbyists. I have not seen any of them eat a baby, twirl their mustaches maniacally, or carry around big bags of money. They do like bourbon though.)
posted by gagoumot at 11:42 AM on September 23, 2013


How is it that I can have a good idea of what laws would be good to vote for and not, while it is impossible for someone whose job it presumably is to do this without needling and cajoling from Monied Interests? There might be some borderline cases, but I've seen a lot of instances where voting for or against are Not Brain Surgery, yet the wrong choice gets consistently made. And if it's bad for a poor ol' individual congressperson, then how could we possibly expect President do his job, considering we expect him to know about legislation and do a lot of other things besides? Delegate authority people, these things can scale with volume.

Again, there are good lobbyists out there. We've heard from one or two in this thread. But there are LOTS of bad ones.
posted by JHarris at 7:30 PM on September 23, 2013


How is it that I can have a good idea of what laws would be good to vote for and not, while it is impossible for someone whose job it presumably is to do this without needling and cajoling from Monied Interests?

Because it's not merely a question of whether you should vote for a particular bill or not. If you're a legislator, you have the opportunity to propose legislation, amend already proposed legislation, and negotiate with other legislators about those things.

Further, I'd suggest that your perceived knowledge isn't nearly as useful as you'd like to think. Unintended consequences are a real bitch, and you've got the luxury of being able to armchair quarterback.

Delegate authority people, these things can scale with volume.

Precisely. That's why we have lobbyists.
posted by valkyryn at 3:24 AM on September 24, 2013


Because it's not merely a question of whether you should vote for a particular bill or not. If you're a legislator, you have the opportunity to propose legislation, amend already proposed legislation, and negotiate with other legislators about those things.

Then get staffers. Sheesh. My point is, you don't have to rely on free handouts of information from industry to make good decisions -- there are many other sources of knowledge, that won't carry with them nearly so much intrinsic bias.

Further, I'd suggest that your perceived knowledge isn't nearly as useful as you'd like to think. Unintended consequences are a real bitch, and you've got the luxury of being able to armchair quarterback.

We're all armchair quarterbacks to some degree or other, but congresspeople especially. To hear them run for office, you would not believe it possible anyone could be more opinionated and certain of their correctness. Then they get voted into office, and are suddenly all reasonable?

At least my own spurious pronouncements come from reading about issues and arguing about them with knowledgeable people on Metafilter. That is to say, there's at least *some* trial by fire going on there.
posted by JHarris at 4:42 AM on September 24, 2013


« Older "Why the suicide rate...  |  "The Grey Ones,"... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments