Since I Agree with Senator Moynihan, I'm Ready to Step Right Up for My New Lobbyist Badge

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My mother never raised me to be a lobbyist, but that doesn't mean she was disappointed when I became one in 1998.

While she may have had the kind of doubts about the lobbying trade that most people seem to have, she had such faith in me that, when I registered to lobby for The Companies for Demutualization Fairness, a national group trying to protect policyholders in mutual insurance companies, she figured it must be a good cause and that my lobbying was based on valid principles. (It was.)

That's the thing about lobbying: your view of it changes depending upon the purpose or goal of the activity. If you support, say, stricter gun control, the people lobbying for it are your heroes, doing God's work, and the people on the other side are dissemblers at best, devils at worst.

In any event, lobbying is entirely legal, a protected activity under the U.S. Constitution's right to free speech. There's no reason to feel bad when exercising your Constitutional rights.

And if you happen to find yourself employed to advocate for a client before a legislative body, there's no reason to walk around like you have something to hide if the client is legitimate and the action he seeks is sound -- legally, morally and ethically.

Good lawyers do not skulk about courthouses, hoping to escape notice, hoping no one will ask them who they are representing. If lawyers can advocate proudly for their clients, lobbyists can too.

So when Republicans in the Massachusetts House of Representatives recently floated some changes in House ethics rules, one of which would have required lobbyists to wear identifying badges at all times within the State House, my reaction was: Fine. Give me a badge. I'll be glad to wear it.

I'm not sure exactly what would be accomplished by having every lobbyist wear a badge, but I suspect that the badge believers among the Republican cohort think it would do two things:

One, let every legislator and legislative staff person know immediately that the person they are dealing with is a paid advocate for some company, organization or cause, and

Two, let every passerby at the State House know when a lobbyist is buttonholing a legislator or legislative staff person in the lobbies outside the House and Senate chambers or in the hallways of the State House.

If that is so, I have no problem with either result. The more we all know about what's going on at the State House the better. When it comes to hiding things in government, I agree with the late, great senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who declared, "Secrecy is for losers."

I also agree with the conservative newspaper columnist and television commentator Charles Krauthammer, who wrote a good piece about lobbying in Washington, D.C., which appeared in late-February of 2008. The things that Krauthammer finds wrong on the Washington scene, re: federal meddling and usurpation, do not really have a parallel in Massachusetts. His thoughts, nevertheless, are worth pondering. Here's an excerpt from that column:

"Of course it (the First Amendment to the Constitution) doesn't use the word lobby. It calls it the right 'to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.' Lobbyists are people hired to do that for you, so you can remain gainfully employed rather than spend your life in the corridors of Washington.

"To hear the presidential candidates, you'd think lobbying is just one notch below waterboarding, a black art practiced by the great malefactors to loose upon the nation every manner of scourge: oil dependency, greenhouse gases, unpayable mortgages and those tiny entrees you get at French restaurants.

"Lobbying is constitutionally protected, but that doesn't mean we have to like it all. Let's agree to frown upon bad lobbying, such as getting a tax break for a particular industry. Let's agree to welcome good lobbying -- the actual redress of a legitimate grievance -- such as protecting your home from being turned to dust to make way for some urban development.

"There is a defense of even bad lobbying. It goes like this: You wouldn't need to be seeking advantage if Washington had not appropriated for itself all kinds of powers, regulations, intrusions and manipulations (often through the tax code) that had never been imagined by the Founders. What appears to be rent-seeking is this redress of a larger grievance -- federal meddling in what had traditionally been considered an area of free enterprise.

"Good lobbying, on the other hand, requires no such larger contextual explanation. It is a cherished First Amendment right -- necessary, like the others, to protect a free people against overbearing government."

I only ask the House Republicans to grant me one thing before I pose, and pay, for my new lobbyist badge: Please guarantee that it will exempt me from going through the five-minute security scan every time I enter the State House. I'm tired of being pulled aside and having a guard "wand" me all over, while I stand there like an idiot with my arms outstretched, because I forgot to take every penny out of my pockets or remove my wristwatch before going through the metal detector.

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