INSIDE THE BELTWAY: From public affairs to government liaison: no matter how it’s spun, a lobbyist is still a lobbyist

Lobbying - the very word suggests intrigue, if not corruption. Who among us when asked our occupation answers, ’I’m a lobbyist,’ as others might say, ’I’m a realtor’ or ’estate planner’ (formerly ’in real estate’ or ’insurance salesman’)?

Lobbying - the very word suggests intrigue, if not corruption. Who among us when asked our occupation answers, ’I’m a lobbyist,’ as others might say, ’I’m a realtor’ or ’estate planner’ (formerly ’in real estate’ or ’insurance salesman’)?

Lobbying - the very word suggests intrigue, if not

corruption. Who among us when asked our occupation answers, ’I’m

a lobbyist,’ as others might say, ’I’m a realtor’ or ’estate

planner’ (formerly ’in real estate’ or ’insurance salesman’)?



In fact, it’s only lately we lobbyists have begun to make our

calling seem more appealing, referring vaguely to public affairs,

government liaison or even corporate communications. Counseling

and positioning are in vogue as alternative verbs, and a

groundswell is developing for reputation engineering.



But lobbying remains essential, if scorned (somewhat like beer),

and when all the fuss about campaign financing is over and

stricter limits are placed on the amount and use of money in

politics, lobbyists will remain. They will occupy their days with

information-gathering and presentation to the lawmakers, rallying

supporters in the district or state and, with any luck, occupying

the evenings with fewer fundraisers.



It’s hard to know, particularly in Washington where the streets

are choked with lobbyists - oh, all right, government-affairs

consultants - why the trade has acquired such a pejorative

meaning. The word itself comes from the mother of all

Parliaments, in England, where representatives of interests

subject to legislation would approach members in the lobbies off

the floor of the House of Commons. No fundraisers, no lavish

gifts, no celebrity Pro-Am golf tournaments, no seats in the

company luxury box at the cricket match - just straight

importuning.



But when the trade moved across the Atlantic to the halls of

Congress, something changed. Nineteenth century cartoons set the

style - lobbyists were either fat and drunken or thin and

sinister - and the mise en scene shifted from the lobby to

’backrooms,’ a general term that includes golf courses, political

clubhouses and, of course, saloons.



There became something faintly sinister about pressing a course

of action and ultimately a vote on a legislator, even if the

cause were an entirely legitimate subject of public debate. The

lobbyists were always on the other side - the public interest had

advocates, even crusaders (when was the last time anyone called

Ralph Nader a lobbyist?), resisting the blandishments of the

lobbyists.



Now we’re all in the business of sounding good. Committees for

Sensible Taxation, Citizens for Strength through Security,

Businessmen for Sound Science abound (if you can work in the word

’integrity,’ so much the better), but if you search around, you

will probably find an old-fashioned lobbyist, close - as the

saying goes - but no cigar.



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