In the wake of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s fall, the atmosphere for lobbyists is getting positively chilly here in the nation’s capital. Some of the top people in the profession were hauled in front of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday to try to explain the current sordid state of affairs.
Distinguishing himself first was John Engler, former Republican governor of Michigan and current head of the National Association of Manufacturers. As noted in the Washington Post, Engler claimed that having a lobbyist pay for "working lunches" was perfectly OK. After all, he said, "A hamburger, I don’t think, is going to change the mind of members of this committee." Perhaps not. But why then, we are emboldened to ask, do members of Congress have such a hard time outlawing the practice, if it makes no difference to them? Are we expected to believe that they cannot afford lunch on their salaries? And how many of those $10 hamburgers are eaten while discussing the thousands of dollars in campaign contributions the lobbyists will funnel their way?
Beyond such trifles as a free lunch, though, the lobbyists testifying went to great lengths to warn Congress against going too far with any reforms. "Whatever occurs, it is imperative that you do not overreact," intoned Engler. Then the president of the American League of Lobbyists, Paul Miller, shared his perspective: "Members of our profession are as disgusted and appalled by what Mr. Abramoff has done as you are." (No doubt they were completely shocked as well.)
Miller went on: "But we should not allow the actions of a few unscrupulous operatives to paint our entire profession as ‘crooks’ or unscrupulous scoundrels who will stop at nothing to have their way with members of Congress….Our government is not ‘corrupt.’ Lobbyists are not ‘bribing’ people; and members of Congress are not being ‘bought’ for campaign contributions."
There you have it – straight from the lobbyists’ mouths. Everything is fine. Thank goodness they finally set the record straight. We can only hope that members of Congress don’t buy this bilge water as they continue to debate desperately needed reforms.