Friday, February 29, 2008

Scapegoating Lobbyists

In today's NY Daily News, Charles Krauthammer writes a column in defense of lobbying, and he makes a number of important points at a time when lobbyists are considered somewhere below child molesters on the human equation scale: "Everyone knows the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. How many remember that, in addition, the First Amendment protects a fifth freedom - to lobby? Of course it doesn't use the word lobby. It calls it the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Lobbyists are people hired to do that for you, so that you can actually stay home with the kids and remain gainfully employed rather than spend your life in the corridors of Washington."

This is important precisely because of the expansion of government power on all levels-an expansion that, in our view, is often far from benign. As we touched on yesterday, the attack by Speaker Quinn's spokesperson on the lobbying opposition to the green carts legislation is a case in point. Government, with little care or precision, forwarded legislation that was as unfair as it was supposedly well-meaning-a routine tendency when we examine so much of what emanates from the halls of power.

So, in defense of neighborhood store owners, a lobbying effort was mounted to highlight the deficiencies of Intro 665-and the deficiencies were both manifest and numerous, a fact that many council members recognized. This is exactly what a good lobbyist does in petitioning the government for a redress of grievances, As Krauthammer points out: "Good lobbying, on the other hand, requires no such larger contextual explanation. It is a cherished First Amendment right - necessary, like the others, to protect a free people against overbearing and potentially tyrannical government."

Only those who believe that George Bush, Eliot Spitzer, Mike Bloomberg and Christine Quinn are infused with infallibility would believe that all manner of folks don't need to be protected from the tentacle reaches of modern behemoth government. And it is generally the most well-meaning legislation that can prove to be the most dangerous; particularly when elected officials are claiming to be speaking on behalf of the voiceless and powerless.

Which gets us to the NY Times hit piece on Senator McCain. Leaving the salaciousness of the supposed affair aside, the article was designed to smear with guilt by association-McCain and the lobbyists-yikes: "But it is also an example of how the demagoguery about lobbying has so penetrated the popular consciousness that the mere mention of it next to a prominent senator is thought to be enough to sustain an otherwise vaporous hit piece."

Maybe we should take Krauthammer's advice and change the lobbying moniker to "Redress Petitioners." Until then, however, we're left with the Herculean task of cleansing the lobbying image-something we're happy to do as we slog through the law-making sausage factory.