War on lobbying profession is discrimination for political gain
Miller is president of the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics and principal of the lobbying firm Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies.
Attacking lobbyists isn't a new phenomenon, it's been happening for decades. It happens every election cycle when candidates troll for cash and votes. It happens when Washington is gridlocked. It's an easy way for some to dodge the hard questions from constituents about why things aren't getting done in D.C. It's easier to simply blame those damn special interests for shutting down the process than it is to explain your own actions.
What's new is the growing intensity against everyone's right to petition their government — even if it means playing fast and loose with the Constitution. I get that a lot of this is for the public and ensuring candidates get elected.
The problem with that belief is that we are a social-media-driven society that can quickly turn fake news into real news (or reality) within minutes. The concerning part isn't the words, but how quickly the information is shared and how little facts play into it being viewed as truth.
As a profession, we need to set the record straight when it comes to attacks on our work. We need to be concerned that a portion of those elected to Congress are using the Constitution as a political tool to silence some and strengthen the voice of others. Our Founding Fathers meant for the Constitution to be a document that protects everyone's rights. Lobbyists give voice to those who want to be heard and that makes legislating hard when people won't blindly follow or simply support your own personal policy agenda. This makes us a target.
We've heard a lot recently about discrimination, especially when it comes to the issue of equal pay thanks to the U.S. women's soccer team. We've seen members of Congress stand up for Team USA, demanding that they get paid equal to the men's team. Yet, in the very next breath, these same leaders want to interpret the Constitution another way when it comes to the lobbying profession.
When it comes to us, there is no hesitation to take our voice away or create discriminatory policies against lobbyists solely based on our profession. This view comes from those who rely on us for information. From those who need our help getting elected. From those who go to great lengths to ask for our financial support. We are today's necessity, tomorrow's fall guy.
Words matter; just ask those who protest every time the president tweets. Words matter here, too. A spokesman for Sen. Elizabeth Warren stated, "The first thing she would do as president would be to pass her anti-corruption bill that would end lobbying as we know it." We need to take a comment like that very seriously. It's broad and can mean almost anything. Just so I didn't misunderstand Warren's spokesman, I went back and looked at her proposal and this is what I found and why we need to wake up to comments like this.
The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act legislates issues already in law. For example, it would ban lobbyists from giving gifts. This is already current law. The legislation has two standards: It bans corporations from having their voice heard but does not set the same standard for labor. Her legislation bans federal employees from lobbying their former offices for two years. Already in law. That ban extends to six years for corporate lobbyists, but she says nothing about the same applying to labor lobbyists. Warren's legislation creates a new expanded definition of what a lobbyist is. It then creates a corporate lobbyist definition. Again, nothing on a new definition for labor lobbyists.
The reality is, if you create a new definition for what a lobbyist is, shouldn't it apply across the board?
It appears this is a bill that discriminates against a group of people (former members of Congress and corporate lobbyists) simply based on their chosen profession. This bill looks to reward others who choose the same profession but may be more in line with the senator's views. Her bill prohibits lobbyists from taking government jobs for two-years after lobbying. It does grant waivers if such hiring is deemed in the national interest. This waiver process only applies to non-corporate lobbyists. That sounds like a special-interest carve-out to me.
I'm not sure this is what our Founding Fathers had in mind.
We cannot continue to sit back and allow some to push a policy agenda that violates the very document giving every citizen the right to petition the government. We cannot sit back and allow some to discriminate against us simply because of the profession we've chosen. If we do nothing, they get away with it. Social media gives credence to ideas like this. Social media builds momentum for discriminatory ideas like this. Just look at the number of followers some of these people have and the reach they have. Words matter and we better start caring.
The Constitution clearly states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." It's time for some to remember this and it's time for our profession to stand up and protect it.
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