Every day during the legislative session, Missourinet reporters walk past, around, or through groups of, LOBBYISTS.
These are people who represent the special interests that influence the writing of laws to protect those interests. They are often targets of public scorn and political rhetoric. “Unclean!!” some like to shout in implication. They are such threats to Democracy that some of the ethics discussions in the legislature focus on banning former legislators from joining the lobbying corps for six months, a year, or longer.
Let’s leaf through our reporter’s notebook to check on the lobbyists who have testified at some of the hearings we’ve been covering in the last few weeks. That will tell us something about what “special interests” are and who are these terrible people we call “lobbyists.” .
A hearing on a bill proposing statewide energy building codes attracted a spokesman for the environmental group Renew Missouri and another called Missouri Votes Conservation as well as representatives from the Missouri Home Builders Association, the Missouri Municipal League, and the Missouri Association of Realtors. Another bill requiring energy efficiency performance standards for utilities drew representatives from the Missouri Energy Development Association, the Association of Electric Cooperatives, and others.
The Senate Transportation Committee looked at a bill making texting while driving illegal for all ages (it’s illegal now for people 21 and younger) and heard from representatives of AT&T, the Missouri Safety Council, the Missouri Bicycle Federation, and the Silver-Haired Legislature.
The Senate Education Committee heard a cyberbullying bill that brought lobbyists for the Missouri School Boards Association, and the Missouri National Education Association.
We’ve also been in hearings this year that included lobbyists for the insurance industry, for the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, The Capitol Women’s Political Caucus, Associated Industries, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Missouri Coalition for Data Centers, International Dark Skies Association, The Missouri Family Network, Alliance for Astronomy, Missouri Association for Social Welfare, and on and on. This just scratches the surface.
The point is this: All of us are “special interests.” Among the lobbyists visitors, reporters, and legislators have to wade through each day of a session are people speak for the quality of the watet, soft drinks, beer and alcohol we drink. There are people who speak for the quality of air we breathe. There are people who represent our feelings about life and when it begins and whether individuals have the right to make their own determinations on the subject. Lobbyists represent our feelings about the state’s authority to execute criminals and the moral reasons not to. Lobbyists protect our gun rights and dispute the need to own assault rifles. Lobbyists try to protect state payment for wheelchairs for Medicaid recipients, early education for our children, safe nursing homes, safe birthing procedures, safe burial plans and procedures. Lobbyists fight for or against insurance coverage for autism therapies. Lobbyists fight for or against requiring motorcyclists wearing helmets. Lobbyists argue for the rights of smokers and for the rights of non-smokers not to breathe smoke.
If you drive the roads, like state parks, home school your children or send them to public schools; if you don’t like to pay taxes or you believe more taxes need to be charged to support programs you support or if you believe taxes should be cut and programs you don’t support should be eliminated—-you are a special interest.
We do not intend to whitewash the lobbying profession in this discussion. Lord knows there are accurate accounts of influence-buying and selling, of campaign finance shenanigans by individuals and groups. But those “unclean” people in the halls are speaking for us. Some have more clout than others. Some are better-financed than others. Many represent multiple clients and multiple interests. The same person you think is sneaky, devious, and too influential on some issues is upright, noble, and has the muscle you need to get what you want on others.
The heated rhetoric about those nasty special interests and their lobbyists lurking in the shadowy fringes of politics and whether it is moral to have people we elect to represent us in the legislature continue to represent us differently in the hallways when their terms end is about you and me.
Lawmakers come and go. Some stay a little longer to lobby but eventually they go away, too.
What never leave is the people in all of their identities and special interests. Those often-derided men and women in the hallways are us in all of our charity and in all of our narrowness, in all of our special interests.