Lobbyists are easy election-year targets

Lobbying is an age-old way to involve a huge electorate in representative democracy.

John Kerry’s oft-heard stump speech has previewed many of the top issues in the next election. He has set the tone on lobbyists by saying, “I’m running for president to free our government from the dominance of the lobbyists, the drug industry, big oil and HMOs – so that we can give America back its future and its soul.” That’s heady stuff for a candidate who is arguably just as entrenched in the lobbying industry as his White House counterpart.

As President George W. Bush and Kerry swing into full election mode, lobbyists in Washington make an easy target, but they are not the enemy – lobbying is an age-old way to involve a huge electorate in representative democracy. Although the U.S. political process suffers from nepotism and greed, elected officials must step up to the plate and assume their roles fighting unethical practices.

The first problem with politicians assailing lobbyists is that many politicians, at some point, work in the lobbying industry. Washington is not populated with only elected officials, but also with the myriad specialists and analysts who support them. Policy analysts, in particular, move between private and public work as political parties move in and out of office. K Street, the so-called lobbyist row, is home to hundreds of organizations representing causes from agriculture to education to technology. Each firm employs specialists, often the same specialists tagged and hired in the last administration.

But movement between public and private industry is not the lone culprit of unfair, insider politics. Lobbyists will always be needed to help important issues reach the ears of elected officials. But the lobbying industry itself cannot and should not become a political clubhouse destined to fulfill its own needs above all else.

Elected officials have an obligation to consider multiple perspectives and analyses and offer well-reasoned, if not completely objective, solutions. Their associations with lobbying firms will always be a web of personal and professional connections. Therefore elected officials must offer more – their professional integrity and guiding philosophy regarding lobbyists.