Tyrades! By Danny Tyree
If “lobbyist” is a dirty word to you, your mayor might think differently.
We generally think of lobbyists as wining and dining on behalf of special-interest groups such as manufacturers, labor unions or retail organizations; but, according to a recent series by Scripps Howard News Service, cities, states and public colleges spend more than $100 million a year paying lobbyists to obtain congressional “earmarks,” grants and rule changes.
Most of the transactions are downright upright, but corruption does exist. Some lobbyists use part of their fees to give big campaign donations to the politicians who help them get the pork their clients seek. I think this is what Elton John sang about in The Lion King as “The Circle of Lowlife.”
Advocates of lobbying insist that municipalities need someone who knows the ins and outs of
Congress and the executive branch — someone who can “navigate the complex hallways of government.” Perhaps, but I don’t think Columbus spent nearly that much cash navigating the Atlantic Ocean with the NiÃ±a, Pinta and Santa MarÃa! It should be possible to get a foot in the door without diamonds on the soles of your shoe.
Groups such as Taxpayers For Common Sense and Citizens Against Public Waste are livid that anyone thinks the system necessary. They demand that congressmen and their staffs simply do what they’re paid to do — seeking out the needs of their district and juggling funds based on merit. But such logic flies in the face of the limited resources and tremendous demands placed on our representatives. (“Now which makes a better photo op? Automatically denouncing The Other Party while hugging a puppy or automatically denouncing The Other Party while kissing a baby?”)
I know that cash-strapped communities are desperately thrashing about for funding of bridges, water treatment plants, health centers and the like; but in these days of deficit spending, the whole hyper-competitive “gimme gimme” routine sometimes sounds like Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally discussing Santa Claus. (“All I want is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share. And Nancy Pelosi is my Sweet Baboo.”)
Lobbying has gotten to be an art form (albeit in an age when submerging a crucifix in urine is also considered an art form). Just once I’d like to see a lobbyist who COULDN’T cobble together a slick presentation for a client. (“The people of East Polliwog are a thrifty, industrious bunch with a proud tradition of…of…I GOT NOTHIN’. Can’t we just arm wrestle for this grant?”)
With the ending of the stimulus package, municipal lobbying has slowed to catch its breath; but it’s still the wave of the future. There’s still plenty of room for growth, as only two percent of state and local governments are currently using lobbyists. The top explanations of the other 98 percent are: (a) too proud to beg, (b) can’t come up with the money to hire a lobbyist, and (c) can’t get the glue off’n the dadgum email from Washington.
It all boils down to a matter of perspective. One city official explains, “Whether you think lobbyists are good or evil depends on whose ox is being gored. Hey, that reminds me — we need new street lights for the time-honored First Annual East Polliwog Ox-Goring Festival. Hey, congressman…”
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