Several years ago, a legislator approached my seat in the House chamber. I welcomed his visit. He was a strong ally in the effort to clean up state government and I had worked with him on a number of modernization initiatives. He knew and understood the importance of our work.
But, his visit wasn’t good news.
“I can’t support your bill,” he said.
He was referencing an important proposal pending in our Government Modernization Committee later that day. The bill was part of a multi-step effort to end a process of “legalized corruption” which wastes millions of dollars of taxpayer funds.
I instantly appreciated my ally’s consideration. He was doing me a favor by giving notice ahead of time so that he wouldn’t embarrass me in front of the committee.
I also took note of his obvious sheepishness. It spoke to the fact that he still had integrity. Unlike some long-term legislators, he wasn’t calloused and didn’t yet have the ability to instantly justify the fact that he was casting a very bad vote.
I surmised that he was making a decision with which he wasn’t comfortable; however, he had probably based his decision on a cost vs. benefit analysis.
In the short term, he had to take a bad vote on an ethics in government proposal, a proposal that he most assuredly knew to be in the public interest, and one that he would normally vote for; but his bad vote came with an important long-term benefit.
I also knew that it wouldn’t help for me to argue with him. Throughout my time in government service, I have learned to instantly recognize when I am running into the imposing “invisible wall.”
The invisible wall consists of the hidden reasons that explain why a legislator does the inexplicable. These are the reasons he can never tell the public – or even admit to himself.
This wall is sometimes surrounded with a visible veneer of faux logic which camouflages its existence and gives a small amount of cover to the co-opted policy maker as he casts a bad vote.
You have probably already guessed that the long-term benefit to my colleague came from the army of lobbyists and special interests arrayed against the reform. At that very moment they were likely outside the House chambers working over the other committee members.
Those special interests groups really wanted to defeat this bill, and thousands of future campaign contributions were potentially at stake.
To my friend’s credit, he didn’t insult me by using faux logic – a fact that I appreciated.
But his silence let me know that I had just hit the “invisible wall”. There was nothing I could do.
The corrupt special interests were going to win this battle!
You have probably already heard “the big lie” from one of your elected officials: “Contributions don’t influence my vote,” and, “Lobbyist contributions don’t make a difference to me. There’s always a special interest group on both sides of the issue who will give me money no matter how I vote.”
Neither statement is true.
Special interest contributions are the invisible wall that cannot be acknowledged by lawmakers when justifying their bad votes. These lawmakers depend on their constituents to accept the “faux logic” that has been fed to them by the special interests.
And there are plenty of instances when lobbyist-directed money is very one sided. This is especially the case when there is a bill to take out legalized corruption processes that are benefiting certain special interests groups. It causes good legislators (like the friend described in this article) to cast very bad votes that would have been unthinkable to them before they got trapped in the Legislature.
It is my hope that a growing number of voters will see through this lie and start to insist that their lawmakers reject lobbyist-directed contributions.
The next time a candidate asks for your vote, please respond with this question: “Will you reject all contributions from lobbyists and their employers?”
This is the best way to knock down the invisible wall.
Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.