January 28, 2023
By: Brian Almon
Lobbying as a profession has a really bad rap these days, and deservedly so. We pin a lot of the problems in politics today to high-powered lobbyists wining and dining our elected officials, diverting them from their job of representing the people and instead passing laws for the benefit of big businesses and special interests.
That’s all true, actually. Wander into the Capitol any given morning and you’ll find lobbyists in nice suits and green name tags chatting up legislators and handing out treats. Our elected representatives do not lack for dining options in the evening, either. We can only imagine what kinds of deals are made behind closed doors.
That said, would it surprise you to learn that I am technically a lobbyist now?
It’s true. As an employee of the Idaho Freedom Foundation I was required to register as a lobbyist, both for IFF itself and for Idaho Freedom Action, just in case I do any work for them in the course of my duties. My green name tag will be ready any day now.
Despite its bad reputation, lobbying is a necessary part of politics. In fact, lobbying is explicitly protected by the 1st Amendment. Everyone knows the parts about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but the last clause says, “…and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Every citizen of the United States of America has a right to petition their government, whether at the federal, state, or municipal level. We have the right to demand redress of grievances, to urge them to approve or reject certain laws, or to simply tell them what we think of their performance as our elected representatives.
There are a few hurdles in the way of exercising that right: first, we have a finite number of elected representatives who have a finite amount of time. Second, citizens have a finite amount of time as well, and talking to politicians is not high on many peoples’ list of hobbies.
Lobbying is the solution to both problems. At its most basic level, lobbying involves one person speaking to our government on behalf of many. A group of people pool their money and hire one spokesman to take their concerns to the Capitol. A corporation with an interest regarding a proposed law hires an advocate to urge the legislature to vote a certain way. Activists select one person to speak for them to our elected representatives.
Unfortunately, politics today is full of massive corporations, PACs, and other organizations that have seemingly unlimited money to pour into their lobbying efforts. These groups often hire former politicians who not only know the system but have preexisting relationships with the people in power.
Should that be legal? Should someone be able to serve in elected office and then immediately transition to lobbying his former colleagues?
Some Idaho representatives don’t think so. Republican Rep. Jaron Crane and Democratic Rep. John Gannon have introduced a bill that would ban legislators and executive branch employees from registering as lobbyists for the session following their exit from public office. They explain that “This legislation helps to prevent conflicts of interest that may occur as a legislator transitions out of office and helps to promote public confidence in the legislative process.”
Sounds simple, right? When President Trump suggested banning congressmen from lobbying for five years after leaving office it was well received by conservatives. Nobody likes the idea of elected representatives who cash their time in office in exchange for a cushy job selling ideas to their former colleagues. For one thing, who knows how much the prospect of such a job affected their votes while in office?
Would it affect your opinion to know that this law would have kept former Representative Ron Nate from working for the Idaho Freedom Foundation this year?
Maybe that doesn’t change anything, but it’s something to consider. Not all lobbyists work for mega-corporations and super PACs. Many speak on behalf of organizations that advocate for much better causes.
As I said above, as an employee of the IFF I will have my own green name tag, and I am registered with the state. Unlike most lobbyists, who go to the Capitol asking for favorable regulations or taxpayer expenditures for their clients, IFF goes there demanding smaller government, lower taxes, and more liberty for the people of Idaho. Does it make sense to curtail pro-liberty organizations with a bill meant to stop megacorps and super PACs?
IFF’s score for the bill is -1, meaning it restricts liberty in some fashion. Parrish Miller wrote that, “These restrictions place unnecessary and unconstitutional constraints on multiple individual rights, including freedom of speech, contract, and association.”
This is not simply self-preservation on our part. Friends will tell you that I have been making this same argument for years, before I ever had any inkling of working for IFF. The way I see it is that we either follow the principles of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, or we don’t. We rightly condemn leftists who twist the words of the 2nd Amendment to restrict our right to bear arms in self defense, so we should apply the same heuristic to the words of the 1st Amendment as well.
Curtailing lobbying is something that sounds good in theory but breaks down in practice. Ironically, a law like this probably helps the big PACs and corporations more than hurts them, because they can still afford the best lobbyists money can buy, while the Ron Nates and Christy Zitos of the world would be barred from working on behalf of smaller pro-liberty organizations.
The solution to the problems of lobbying is not more regulation, but more speech. IACI can hire all the powerful lobbyists they want but they are no match for a committee hearing room full of engaged citizens speaking knowledgeably and passionately about subjects that affect their lives. We cannot assume that our politicians will do the right thing on their own – we must get down there and remind them of who they work for.
Another answer to the problems regarding lobbying is sunshine and transparency. As with campaign finance, Idaho requires all lobbyists to register with the state and report their activities. Click here to read the Secretary of State’s FAQ regarding lobbying, and click here to browse the list of registered lobbyists.
Lobbying might be a dirty word, but it is a necessary part of our current system. I will proudly wear my green name tag as I continue fighting for freedom in Idaho, and I hope to see you all at the Capitol as often as possible.