Lawmaker Wants to Ban Hill Line Standers
Wednesday, October 17, 2007; 4:33 PM
WASHINGTON -- Some people camp out all night for the chance to get tickets to see Bruce Springsteen or the World Series.
Others spend hours in line, sometimes for pay, just to hold a place so someone else _ a lobbyist _ can get a prime seat when the doors open and a congressional hearing begins.
For one Missouri senator, this practice of paying professional "line-standers" reinforces the culture of buying access to Congress and often prevents the public from getting into crammed hearing rooms.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a freshman Democrat, proposed legislation Wednesday that would require lobbyists to certify twice a year that they have not paid anyone to save a seat for them at hearings.
"We need to make sure this place is available to the people who own it and that's the people of this country, not the lobbyists," she said.
McCaskill spoke at a news conference outside the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing room, where dozens of paid line-standers had waited since 3 a.m. for seats at a hearing on wireless technology.
As she spoke, lawyers, lobbyists and communications company employees who had paid a line-standing company up to $60 an hour to secure a good seat arrived to meet their stand-ins.
The line-standers are an eclectic mix of bike messengers, college students, retirees and others looking to make some extra money. They can make $8 an hour or more, depending on the job.
Jay Moglia, a 47-year-old bike messenger who was first in line for the hearing Wednesday, said McCaskill's proposal was an affront to the free market.
"These hearings are open to the public and anybody can come wait," said Moglia, who works for linestanding.com, one of the biggest local companies in the business. "From the grass-roots end, I can understand her issues, but it's capitalism and democracy."
John Winslow, director of linestanding.com, said lobbyists pay for the service because they believe it gives them an edge.
"There's a certain amount of simple face time that lobbyists are trying to accrue with members of the committee and there's only one way to get that face time _ it's to be in the front row of that hearing," Winslow said.
McCaskill said professional line-standing should be prohibited in the same way that the practice of lobbyists buying gifts and meals for lawmakers was banned in ethics legislation passed this year.
Eric Peterson, a lobbyist for the Rural Cellular Association who did not use a line-stander to get his seat Wednesday, said lobbyists do not win any special advantage with lawmakers just by sitting in the hearing room.
"I don't see this as face time with the senators," Peterson said. "We're an audience watching them."