Sunday, February 17, 2008

The New Lobbying: It's not Just for the Rich and Powerful Anymore!

It is established wisdom that special interests use campaign funds to buy access to lawmakers and that lobbying is akin to the world's oldest profession. However, a couple recent articles in the Washington Post suggest that this knee jerk reaction to the goings-on in Washington, DC may not be 100% accurate.

First, on Feb. 14th came an article entitled "Home Builders Halt Campaign Funds After Setback"which chronicled the decision by the home builders PAC to stop making contributions to members of Congress after not getting certain policy provisions in the emergency economic stimulus bill. The message that some people are taking away from this is "See, there you have it. Lobbyists give campaign contributions and expect favors in return." In my opinion, the more important message is "See, you can be one of the biggest PAC contributor and lobbying organization on the planet and you still can't buy yourself in to the legislative process."

My perspective, which some may call naive, was confirmed in a recent article in the Post magazine entitled "How Lobbyists Always Win." In it, the efforts of the Disney corporation to increase congressional support for tourism were discussed at some length. Interestingly, the article talked more about the advetising, marketing, grassroots and networking components of lobbying than campaign contributions. In fact, the author Jeffrey Birnbaum points to a "new breed" of lobbyists more likely to find success through a combination of non-traditional factors as opposed to just "access by powerful people" and "strategic campaign funding."

The good news is that one of the pillars of this new approach is plain, old ordinary citizens like you and I. We don't have to be leaders of industry or big campaign contributors or even relatives of an elected official to have an impact -- as long as we care about an issue and make an effort to participate, we can be more powerful than all the homebuilder and mickey mouse PACs combined.

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