For those of us who have committed almost 40 hours (3 seasons thus far) of our lives to Frank Underwood and the rest of the House of Cards cast, we know Remy Danton as the tall, handsome, lobbyist who switches sides and gives funding to whichever politician will help progress his company’s legislative agenda.
Where does the term lobbying come from? and why is it such a bad thing? Many claim that the term was coined at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. where President Grant used to drink brandy, and smoke cigars, only to be hounded by petitioners about the controversial issues of the day. Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large for the Oxford-English Dictionary says that the term “lobbyist” was used as early as 1640 to describe the lobbies where people of England gathered to speak to and influence parliamentary members of the House of Commons. It didn’t actually reach Washington until around 1830 (almost 200 years later).
The majority of Americans don’t know jack squat about lobbying, and that’s why they believe that it is a terrible, mischievous thing that hides in dark alleyways and private house parties of political officials around Washington. Lobbyists are often seen as sneaky, persuasive, manipulative men or women in nice suits who work for rich firms who try and bribe politicians to propose and pass policy in one direction or another. This is false – to an extent.
Lobbying is defined as:
When a business or other special interest group uses money, persuasion and political connections to influence the content and direction of laws and regulations.
One of our rights as American people is to lobby! In the First Amendment, it says that it is the “right of the people…to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” In Layman’s Terms, it’s saying that we have the right to try and persuade our elected officials to change what they are doing because we don’t like how things are going. That’s exactly what lobbying is.
Lobbying comes in many different forms. A lot of lobbying comes out of different think tanks that are spread out around Washington and are aligned with a multitude of different political ideals. Direct lobbying can look like a number of things – Meeting with legislators or their staff to discuss specific legislation – Drafting or negotiating the terms of a bill – Discussing potential contents of legislation with legislators or staff – Meeting with officials of the executive branch to influence testimony on a legislative proposal – Urging a Presidential or gubernatorial veto – and on and on and on and on….
Some of these things might seem sort of sketchy, but lobbyists are often times just an extra source of information for policy makers who can’t(and don’t) possibly know all the details on every single issue. And in regard to the meetings, there are strict rules that apply when a lobbyist is getting together with a legislator or legislative staff member. Lobbyists aren’t even allowed to buy lunch for legislators, let alone buy them a new car, send them on a fancy vacation, or funnel tens of thousands dollars into their campaign.
Grassroots lobbying, which is different from direct lobbying as it is focused on persuading the masses instead of the elected few, is also very effective. If a congresswoman receives 16,472 emails/letters from her constituents regarding a certain issue, she may be more inclined to move a certain direction on an issue, and it might even be more effective than meeting with a well known lobbyist. We see grassroots lobbying in press releases, radio shows, think tank blogs and/or newsletters, etc.
After speaking with Eric Donaldson, a prominent state lobbyist in Texas, I was told a few of the most important things one must know in order to be a successful lobbyist (according to Eric).
1. Be Tough – Lobbyists have a bad reputation, and to be respected in this field you need to be able to hold your ground, take “no” for an answer, and stay focused when things are not going your way.
2. Don’t Lie – lying to a legislator or other elected official can ruin your reputation in the business and you will never be hired or listened to again.
3. Lobby for Something You Believe In – it is far more difficult to lobby for something that you don’t believe is right, and people can tell if you’re trying to convince them of something that even you think is wrong.
After being asked whether or not he believes that lobbying is a positive aspect to today’s policy shaping world, he responded frankly with… “I want to protect everybody’s right to make to a bad decision” …which he claims is part of his mantra.
Lobbying is a fundamental right to the American people and is hugely influential in the political world that governs us today. I urge those of you who still believe it’s a dirty, manipulative by-product of negative politics, to read this blog on the Citizens Climate Lobby.
Remy Danton, although he may seem driven and subtly mischievous as he promotes the legislative agenda of SanCorp, he is often acting within his rights, given to him by our own Constitution.
"Professional lobbyists know their territory. They make very efficient use of their client’s time. They can find out where your problem lies, who to talk to, and what questions to ask. They can tell you what information you need to have, and what questions you will have to answer. You will find out who you have to convince and why. Essentially, they guide you through the jungle of government and public opinion.” -Honourable John Reid
(Published with consent from Avery's blog: 14th and Constitution)