Advocate, Lobbyist or Special Interest

A Rose by Any Other Name is Still a Rose

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With the Primary Elections only one week away the attack ads are starting to run with an urgency dictated by a short time remaining. Ads are pointing out past actions of candidates, just how much of a Christian conservative a candidate is and alleged connections to those evil people referred to as “lobbyists”. Lobbyists have become the boogey man that once was Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama. As candidates are running towards Donald Trump they also want to paint any association with a lobbyist or a special interest as being something to be avoided at all costs.

Let’s consider for a moment just what a lobbyist really is. Consider the following:

  • An Advocate (n) is a person who pleads the cause of another, or self, or for a specific cause.
  • A Lobbyist has been described in a variety of ways:
    • Someone who represents the position of a group or an issue generally, though not always, for compensation;
    • Someone who pleads the cause of another, or self, or for a specific cause;
    • The person you hire to protect you from those you elect;
    • Or as was described by Spang, an editorial cartoonist for the Montgomery Advertiser, many years ago when he had his character sitting at a piano and the caption was “Please don’t tell my mother I am a lobbyist she thinks I am a piano player in a house of ill repute.
  • A Special Interest is a cause, issue, person or organization that has a specific interest a particular subject.

There are many different types of Special Interests that have Advocates or Lobbyists representing them. Just consider the times that you have stepped in to help advance an issue that your spouse, child or parents have been interested in. You have just become an Advocate. If you reach out to multiple entities or people on behalf of another you have just become a Lobbyist. And, the cause, issue or person you were assisting with is by definition a Special Interest.

Dealing with the Alabama Legislature there are any number of Special Interests including, but not limited to the following: Churches, Children, Physicians, Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Banks, Utilities, Insurance Companies, State Agencies, Gaming Interests, Trade Associations, Attorneys (both plaintiff and defense), Unions and many others. Depending on your perspective some are very worthwhile others are reviled.

Whether someone is an Advocate or a Lobbyist (one in the same) there is a needed place for these activities. The Alabama Legislature is a part-time body with very limited staff. Often the best, or only, resource for a Legislator is a Lobbyist who is knowledgeable on a particular subject. Those lobbyists who are the most successful year-in and year-out are the lobbyists who will provide honest, and complete, information to a Legislator. The general perception is that lobbyists are hired guns out to pass something for a particular client. In reality that constitutes less than 25% of what most lobbyist do in any given Legislative Session. More often than not lobbyists find themselves playing defense – killing, or modifying, bad legislation. They also find that educating Legislators to the merits, or unintended consequences, of a particular action can pay dividends in the years to come.

An example of that education can be seen in the discussion with a Budget Chairman after a $15 million cut in Medicaid that reduced the payment to Pediatricians. This cut saved the state $15 million in one Fiscal Quarter. The unintended consequence of that $15 million in savings was that just one Pediatric practice in a mid-sized community cost that practice over $1.2 million when the state cut, combined with the federal matching payments were made, resulting in the practice laying of two Pediatricians and eight professional staff. It also resulted in the delay of construction of a new location to serve rural Alabama until such time as the cuts were restored. We tend to look at one piece of the puzzle without considering the entire picture.

Without question, there are good lobbyists and there are bad lobbyists just as there are good and bad actors in any profession but when politicians demonize a profession solely for political gain it serves no one. One candidate running this year makes lobbyist out to be evil yet when that candidate was a Member of the Legislature he depended on lobbyists to help craft legislation. Another points to “paid lobbyists” working for a state official. That is clearly prohibited by law and is not factual. Raising boogey men that do not exist is effective but it is wrong.

Next time you want to buy something, or do something, that you feel compelled to discuss with your spouse, child, parent or partner and you make your case remember that you are lobbying. Does that make you a special interest an evil person? No, it means you are a normal person with a specific goal. Just remember, “A rose by any other name…”.

The Alabama House will reconvene at Noon on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

 The Alabama Senate will reconvene at Noon on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

 

The views and opinions contained in this report do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the clients of Public Strategies, LLC.