What is a lobbyist? The McCormick Group's John Hesse says it's about communication

John Hesse II, a consultant on law and government affairs at The McCormick Group, discusses lobbying and PR.

What is a lobbyist?
John F. Kennedy defined lobbyists as "expert technicians capable of examining complex and difficult subjects in clear, understandable fashion." He added: "They engage in personal discussion with members of Congress in which they explain in detail the reasons for the positions they advocate."

What are the positive influences of lobbyists?
Lobbyists educate government officials on complex subjects that officials don’t have time or expertise to research themselves.

What’s happening with lobbying in Washington?
For the last seven years, lobbying and interacting with government has been frowned upon. Banning lobbyists from serving in the government has hampered the administration’s ability to build support. Previous administrations welcomed the involvement of lobbyists to provide advice on policy and strategy.

What effect has Obama’s position had on Congress’ productivity and Washington’s effectiveness?
This administration has had to educate and inform at the same time it advocates for changes in policy. Roadblocks to the adoption of its ideas have not been identified in a way that would allow smooth consideration in Congress. Most of its proposals have not been enacted through the legislative process and those it put forward through executive order face legal challenges. This has been a waste of time, money, and effort, and by shunning the "regular course of business in Washington" this administration has found it incredibly difficult to win support and build consensus.

How has this affected the presidential election?
Compromise and debate has been replaced with demagoguery and intolerance. The nation has become polarized and the vast majority is not on either end of the ideological spectrum. 

New York state is requiring PR pros to register as lobbyists - are PR pros lobbyists in disguise?
Outside the Beltway, the world realized the way to influence policy is not to hire well-connected individuals who get you meetings (i.e. lobbyists). It is to go into meetings with relevant people armed with a constituency that directly affects the person they’re meeting and the facts: PR is bringing together constituencies and facts.

New York regulators are concerned that PR people who do this work, organizing political movements around issues and bringing constituencies together, are not held accountable.

New York is a thought leader so groups that represent state and local interests, such as the National Governors Association or Conference of Mayors, might make it a model that gets taken to other states.

The definition of lobbying has broadened. I’m all for transparency, but not at the price where it infringes people’s ability to speak freely.

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