The harshness of recent political discourse should make it clear that a bit more civility needs to be injected into our political and legislative processes. Perhaps a good start would be to better understand the role of lobbyists and stop using them as targets to arouse animosity towards a candidate or cause.
Despite a lot of general knowledge of this activity, few people understand all of the intricacies associated with lobbying. Many believe that only “special interests” lobby and that such interests are inherently evil and represent corrupt or greedy corporate interests. That is pure nonsense and a direct result of misleading rhetoric.
The fact is, lobbying, in the usual context, is essential to the legislative process. When you consider the vast range of issues confronting lawmakers, and the enormous complexity of many of them, it is not hard to understand why outside help from informed sources is required. A lobbyist provides the lawmaker specialized knowledge, albeit from the perspective of the particular interest being served.
A case in point comes to mind. Years ago a senator from a northern county introduced a bill into the Arizona legislature that would have eliminated the contestability clause in all life and health insurance policies. (The senator was a personal injury lawyer in private life.) The affected committee chairman called and asked that I come down and testify as to the merits of the proposal. The members of the committee were all unaware that the proposal would have wiped out an important policyholder benefit, the right to have an incontestable policy after 2 or 3 years. After my testimony the bill died a quick death. Who were the special interests in this case? The insurance-buying public.
When I was president of the board of one of our local school districts I was often asked by the leaders of the classroom teachers association to meet with members of the legislature on matters affecting our schools. Lobbying pure and simple, and who were the special interests? The children in our district.
Sometimes lobbying addresses a single issue, either in one episode or on a sustained basis. Addressing a single issue offers the lobbyist latitude not available to those who represent many issues on a continuing basis. Concentrating on one issue is, for the most part, a relatively simple process. However, when an organization has to monitor and speak to a great many subjects, and over many years, the job becomes extremely complicated. Additionally, if a lobbyist is to be effective then the message carried has to be believed. Credibility is the lobbyist’s most important stock in trade. Credibility, in turn, can be maintained over a long period only if the lobbyists and the information being provided are reliable and consistent.