Monday, August 22, 2005

Elect Me, Then Lobby Me

Subject: Elect Me, Then Lobby Me
Date: 8/22/2005 5:20:07 PM Eastern Daylight Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)


By Henry J. Stern
August 22, 2005

This is a major story about an issue which is important, yet relatively unknown to the public.

In today's Sun, p1c1 jumping to p2, Brian McGuire, writing from Albany, explores the situation in which campaign staff who work to elect candidates also collect fees as lobbyists to influence, on behalf of a roster of paying clients, the people whom they have just helped to elect.

The new class of insiders, which include Republicans and Democrats, are paid for their campaign work by the candidates, who often use public matching funds for that purpose. When the candidates are elected or re-elected, the campaign staff sells their access to the public official to their private clients -corporations, unions, nonprofits, Indian tribes - any group that wants the official to do something to help them, or not do anything to hurt their economic interests. Rule 21-O: "One hand washes the other" and Rule 23-B: "Money talks..."

The headline in this morning's Sun: "HOW CANDIDATES BLUR THE LINES WITH LOBBYISTS -- Key Spokesmen May Serve Two Masters."

The lede: "Want to know Senate candidate Jeanine Pirro's position on casino gambling or importing prescription drugs from Canada? You might find yourself talking to one of her two top campaign aides, Kieran Mahoney or Michael McKeon, who are employees of a firm, Mercury Public Affairs, that is registered with the state of New York as a lobbyist for the Shinnecock Nation Gaming Authority and the drug company Pfizer.

"Are you a donor to Senator Clinton who wants to know what her position is on merit pay for teachers or American aid to Turkey? You could ask the Clinton campaign's chief fund-raiser, Patti Solis Doyle, who until recently worked at the Glover Park Group. Or you might be referred to Howard Wolfson, a partner in Glover Park Group - which, according to government filings and press reports, has the United Federation of Teachers and the government of Turkey among its clients."

The practice of campaign consultants, who are often powerful figures to whom candidates feel indebted, also serving as lobbyists is troublesome in a number of ways. First is the question of undue influence, will a candidate be more likely to listen to the person who helped elect him or her, or to a lobbyist without that entree?

Second is the issue of undercharging, will a campaign consultant charge the candidate less for his services, knowing that he will make up the difference in lobbying fees? If that be the case, and we have heard allegations to that effect, how can other campaign consultants compete unless they too are lobbyists?

Third is the problem of what happens when lobbyists skip to other companies, or clients change their lobbyists. Do they take the elected officials with them? Does that enhance their marketability? Who owns the relationship? Who owns - or rents - the public officials?

It seems to us that the incestuous relationships of lobbyists and elected officials are intimate enough without the lobbyist becoming the instrumentality of the official's nomination and election. What if several candidates compete for the services of one campaign consultant? Will he go for the one whose election would give him the greatest opportunity to fatten his client roster?

The conflicts of interests inherent in this practice deserve strict regulation if not total prohibition. However, the manipulating string pullers and influence peddlers are clever enough to outwit any regulatory scheme, if necessary with the assistance of pliant judges. They have had years of experience in passing laws, preventing laws from being passed, and getting around the laws that are passed. The clearest thing to do would probably be to outlaw the combined practice of lobbying for bills and electing people to vote on those bills.

Notwithstanding a strong bill, we will still need to ride herd on the dummy and shell corporations, operated by nominees and straw men, that will be created to circumvent the spirit of the ban. Penalties for violating this law should be sufficiently severe to have a deterrent effect on the cheaters. The Stock Exchange and the SEC, for example, have the power to expel crooks from the exchange or the securities business. Why not do the same to lobbyists who do not conform to the moral standards that should be expected for their occupation.

Let us make it clear: lobbying is a legitimate business and there are honorable professionals who engage in it, some of whom we know as people who are and should be held in high regard. Businesses sometimes need intermediaries to deal with government. Perhaps theoretically they shouldn't, but in the real world, an age of specialized skills, they often do. Corporations and individuals are entitled to a fair hearing in dealing with legislators and procurement officers. Lobbyists may be required to see that they get one. Appropriate lobbying is acceptable.

But any business where the stock in trade consists of human relationships is subject to abuse and over-reaching. The relatively new practice of campaigners doubling as lobbyists makes oversight more difficult, and creates additional opportunities for improper behavior. The campaign-lobbyist complex should not be allowed to tighten its grip on the legislature and state agencies.

But the question remains, as expressed briefly by Rule 17-C: "Who will bell the cat?"

(Explication of any obscurities in the text is available by e-mail or telephone. We are aware that a good article is self-explanatory, but there may be nooks, crannies or case histories that some of you may wish to explore.)

246 - 8.22.05

Henry J. Stern
New York Civic
520 Eighth Avenue
22nd Floor
New York, NY 10018
(212) 564-4441
(212) 564-5588 (fax)

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