I have frequently expressed my view of the inappropriate influence of lobbyists over the legislative process.
I once wrote about a certain group of government agency lobbyists this way: “They are professional relationship manipulation experts and expert strategists, and they know the pressure points to push to get a key lawmaker’s vote.
“Their attempts to kill a good bill appear to be rather like a game to them. A team of lobbyists can point to a dead bill much like a trophy and use it as a warning to other legislators who might try to upset their deal.”
I think the preceding definition very aptly describes the procedures used by certain special interests. It is important to note that not every member of the lobbyist profession falls into that description.
Upon election to office, I took a pledge to not take gifts or political contributions from lobbyists and lobbyist-represented entities. This pledge has been most liberating because it has allowed me to interact with lobbyists based on the merit of their proposals.
I think that several, if not most, lobbyists appreciate the fact that we can discuss policy without ever having to worry about if they made a large enough contribution to my campaign or if they included me in an invitation to a lobbyist-sponsored dinner.
This relationship allows them to communicate their frustrations with the current system and to know that my decision to support their initiatives will be based on the quality of their proposal.
It also allows them to describe their experiences of being shaken down by politicians.
Too many politicians in the past made a game out of seeing how much money they could milk out of lobbyists’ bank accounts.
Consider the following examples that have been communicated to me in past years.
A few years back, lawmakers would raise money from lobbyists in order to sponsor out-of-state trips to various events hosted by different associations.
A lobbyist would be solicited to make a donation to the fund. The lawmaker who solicited the donation would reportedly receive a “commission” of 50% of the amount raised.
In essence, lobbyists who donated to “sponsor” a legislator’s trip wouldn’t just be paying for the trip, but would also put hundreds of extra spending dollars in the lawmaker’s pocket, whether they knew it or not. This presumably went unreported and was not reviewable by the taxpayers.
Don’t think for a minute that these lawmakers were actually going to spend that money on a trip. Once in attendance at these out-of-state conferences, some lawmakers made a sport out of finding lobbyists to take them to the best restaurants and run up a huge tab.
In one such case, a group of Oklahoma lawmakers managed to find a team of three lobbyists to take them out to eat. The politicians took the opportunity to order extremely costly items and very expensive wine.
When the bill for hundreds of dollars was provided to one of the lobbyists, the lobbyist asked the waiter to please divide the bill between the three lobbyists so they could share the cost. It fell to the waiter to inform the shocked lobbyist that they had already divided the bill and this bill for hundreds of dollars represented just one-third of the cost.
Some lawmakers didn’t have a problem double crossing their financiers who pay for this expensive game. I can recall the frustration of one lobbyist who described that a lawmaker gave his word that he would vote with the lobbyist’s position. The lawmaker almost immediately broke his word and voted the other way.
Later that same day, when it was time for lunch, the lawmaker called the lobbyist and without missing a beat asked the lobbyist if he would take the lawmaker and his friends out for lunch.
Surely a person with a modicum of shame should have at least waited for a couple of days before asking for the largesse to which he felt entitled.
Although I frequently speak out against the inappropriate influence of special influence over government, these stories represent the other side of the equation: politicians who make sport out of shaking down lobbyists.