Ethical Lobbyists – Oxymoron?

Anytime I see, hear or smell an oxymoron, my antennas stand at attention. Because I’ve been touched by a parallel universe. It happened yesterday when I saw a reference to “ethical lobbyists”. The world split into two universes and the stink of sulfur reached my nose. In one universe happy lobbyists marched into Washington, pick axes in hand, to the tune of We’re in the Money. In the other universe they’re being welcomed by droves of politicians responding with a hardy rendition of Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

Do I exaggerate? I hope so. Lobbyism started about forty years ago as a respectable consulting business by two partners who decided to use their knowledge of Congress and the federal bureaucracy to help businesses and institutions. The idea proved to be so amazingly successful, money wise, that Washington became a humongous magnet drawing everybody with a pick axe to the nation’s capital to make their fortunes.

In the beginning there was no question about ethics, which was taken for granted. After all, this was America and our elected representatives in Washington were there to represent its citizenry, their almighty constituents. But as time went by and those elected to office saw the extent of the coffers of the lobbyists, ethics became, for many of them, of lesser concern. Just a buzz word, you might say.

There has been an explosion of the lobbying business. The Center for Public Integrity estimates that nearly half the ranks of former Cabinet officials, members of Congress and staff members who’ve left since 1998 have become lobbyists. Also, that the number of former congressmen and agency heads turned lobbyists has doubled in the past ten years.

For many, the time served in government work is becoming a training ground for real careers as lobbyists, where the big bucks are–we’re talking millions of dollars a year. Congress has an evolving door provision, set now at one year and going up to two years in January (some think it should be set at five years) which may be the reason Trent Lott is leaving now instead of later. If he becomes a lobbyist, as is pretty certain, he will be the first senator in history to leave midway through his term to lobby. Some suggest it’s so he can beat the one year extended time in January and can begin to lobby as early as next Thanksgiving. During the waiting period he can work as a “consultant” and start making the big bucks right away.

All of this is in the universe we now inhabit. But what about a universe where Ethics stayed in place, where ethical lobbyist is not an oxymoron but exists unequivocally in an alternate reality? In September 2007 a new, supposedly tougher ethics bill was passed and signed by the president. It was put together by those of our representatives who are trying to connect with this other universe. I pray they will be successful as I still see pick axes everywhere.

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2 Responses

  1. When you see an unlikely adjective beside a noun, you can bet it’s there to take control of your better judgment, soften you up for a new spin. I suggest you remove the adjective and trust what the noun is saying. Some of them are obvious: ethical lobbyist, compassionate conservative, clean coal…

  2. That’s good advice, also a rapid-fire detection device when all those words come roaring at us from the spinmasters. I’m going to keep it in mind so the warning lights go on, like “Watch out! An unlikely adjective is heading your way — get out your s___ detector and deflect!” Thanks!

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