Lobbying's Good Guys? On the Campaign Trail, They're Invisible.
Lobbyists have been pariahs for nearly a century -- at least to presidential candidates.
Woodrow Wilson started the trend. Before he ran for president in 1912, Wilson was a scholar of factional politics at Princeton University. He won the White House in part by attacking the object of his expertise. Many presidential wannabes since then have followed Wilson's lead and lambasted "special interests" as a way of demonstrating how much they care about the rest of us.
This year's vitriol against lobbyists by Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, therefore, is not new. But it is different in one respect. It is, more than in the past, indiscriminate. The candidates go after anyone who registers to lobby in Washington, without regard to who or what the lobbyist represents.
And that has rankled in the nation's capital. After all, is every lobbyist the same?
Wilson and other lobbyist-bashers of the past made a distinction between the corporate lobbyists they disdained and other, more sympathetic petitioners of government.
But Obama doesn't permit any kind of federally registered lobbyists to give money to his campaign or to the Democratic National Committee. McCain has forced lobbyists to leave his staff and has required lobbyist volunteers to stay away from his offices and disclose their clients to the campaign.
"All lobbyists are not the same," he said. "While special interest lobbyists outnumber socially responsible lobbyists by a major factor, there are many lobbyists who do remarkable work for the public good."
To think and say otherwise, he added, is "typical campaign demagoguery."
Gary D. Bass, president of OMB Watch, a nonprofit group that pushes for government accountability, agrees that public interest lobbyists are being unfairly besmirched. Why should groups that try to eradicate disease or protect animals be attacked as, essentially, un-American?
"It's an honorable tradition and something that's essential to the fabric of our democracy," Bass said. "The real problem that needs to be discussed here is the influence of money, not lobbying."
Sister Simone Campbell also thinks the attacks are misguided. She is a registered lobbyist for -- and executive director of -- Network, an advocacy group founded in 1971 by 47 Roman Catholic nuns. She and her colleagues lobby for humanitarian causes -- improved conditions for immigrants and reconstruction of Iraq.