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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No need to stereotype Michigan's new lobbyists

As far as I reckon the Founders of the United States of America, and the scribes of our highest law, the United States Constitution, anticipated lobbyists, "Special Interests" and advocates of certain ideas, businesses, services, and producers, as middle-people and messengers between the government (legislators, the executive branch) and the citizens, including those with fiscal and moral investments in the country. I believe the Constitutional proponents, collectively known as Publius, who wrote the Federalist papers, including that prediction in their articles.

On the other hand, if I read it properly oh so long ago, they never anticipated the existence of political parties and these were created by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson as a course of their conflict. John Adams' Presidency was a victim of that concept execution as he had no second term.

Which is to say that James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton probably would not be opposed to the large number of lobbyists which purportedly will be running abound and operating in Michigan as they attempt to persuade the new Governor Rick Snyder and educate the rookie legislators for various best interests. Kathy Barks Hoffman, on November 15, essentially speculated as to their growth. We don't know that their role will necessarily grow yet although her conclusions are logical.
The sweet rolls and coffee Michigan lawmakers partook in as they met with Gov.-elect Rick Snyder didn't come with a price tag - yet.

The cost of Tuesday's continental breakfast was picked up by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, who have contributed heavily to lawmakers this past year in an attempt to block approval for a competing Detroit-to-Windsor bridge that state and Canadian officials want built.

The Detroit International Bridge Co. wasn't doing anything wrong in feeding the lawmakers, or in having Nora Moroun, wife of bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun, in the room.

But it's a sign of the major role those with business before the Legislature play in Lansing, a role that could grow next year as an especially large class of freshmen lawmakers and a governor with little previous political experience take office.

Michigan lobbyists reported spending $17.8 million on lawmakers' meals, travel, lodging, gifts and tickets to events the first seven months of 2010. Last year, they spent at least $32.1 million, according to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network. That doesn't include spending that doesn't have to be reported because it's below certain limits.

Snyder pledged during his campaign that he wouldn't be beholden to special interest groups. He didn't accept any campaign money from political action committees, instead relying on individual donors and $6.1 million of his own money.

Many of Snyder's individual donors had ties to businesses that stand to gain from Snyder's plan to cut business taxes, such as Meijer Inc. executive Frederick G. Meijer, Dow Chemical Co. manager Ronald Emmons and Haworth Inc. President and CEO Franco Bianchi.

The Ann Arbor venture capitalist also benefited from more than $3.5 million in campaign ads paid for by the Republican Governors Association with the help of a hefty $5.4 million donation from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

It's not unusual for a pro-business governor to be elected with the help of business supporters. But if Snyder thinks his pledge to lessen lobbyists' mark on his administration means a huge change in Lansing, he needs to think again, said executive director Rich Robinson of the campaign finance network.

"He's not the only person involved in running the government," Robinson said. "There's 148 legislators who may not have his strength in being immune to the influence of lobbyists."

Snyder transition spokesman Bill Nowling, a State House veteran who has worked for Republicans in both the House and Senate, said the governor-elect is fully aware of how lobbyists can hurt - or help - his efforts to reinvent the economically struggling state.

"It's not that he doesn't think special interests have a role in the process. They do," Nowling said Friday. "But he wanted to be able to stand up and say, 'Look, I'm not beholden to anyone except the voters.'"
Bill Nowling is correct. We should especially consider that in many cases a good lobbying firm will have resources, especially for research, that a legislator cannot and will not possess on his own. Typically the media and a particular lobbyists' philosophical or political opponent will slander the whole idea and practice of lobbyists when, and only when, it is politically useful to vilify the use of the First Amendment. Besides, every citizen has an interest in these legislators, regardless of campaign contributions and it is in every citizen's best interest to have a voice to speak in State Representatives' ears.
Michigan had 2,783 registered lobbyists last year, 500 more than in 1999, according to secretary of state figures. That means there are nearly 20 lobbyists for every lawmaker. Lobbyists last year spent nearly $12 million more annually than they did in 2001, a 59 percent increase, according to the campaign finance network.

Some Capitol regulars work for big multi-client lobbying firms such as Karoub Associates, which hosted Tuesday's freshman caucus event with Snyder at its offices a half-block east of the Capitol. Others represent businesses or unions
It's a service and everyone has a right to it.
multi-client firm Governmental Consultant Services Inc.... boasts in its company brochure that its "strong working relationships with all the political powerbrokers in Michigan ... lend you valuable access to the Governor, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader and other such political leaders of our state, which is vital to realizing your legislative goals."

It also boasts it has access to a network of powerful political action committees - ones that can donate campaign cash to friendly lawmakers and top state officials. Especially for House members who must run for re-election every two years, those donations can be critical.

Nell Kuhnmuench, one of GCSI's five directors and a lobbyist for more than 20 years, said hiring a lobbyist is sometimes the only way a business, group or individual can make sure their voice is heard at the Capitol.

"In our world, we have laws and regulations. And every time the Legislature writes a law, every time a regulation is adopted, it impacts some entity or someone, or both," she said. "There are a lot of lobbyists ... because there are a lot of people who are impacted by government decisions, but also because one interest may differ from another.

"Those interests want to make sure they're heard as decisions are being made," she said.

Many lobbyists will play a more prominent role in the months ahead as they work to get new lawmakers up to speed on a dizzying number of issues. Twenty-nine out of 38 senators and more than 50 lawmakers in the 110-member House will be new in 2011. As Tuesday's breakfast showed, lobbyists already are reaching out to them.
Despite that lobbyists are only accountable to those paying them and not to the general public (although some special interests groups are issue advocacy groups and are not working on behalf of private enterprise, so they are answerable only to donors and I suppose a board of directors, depending on circumstance) we should give them some benefit of the doubt as their honor lies in the strength of contracts and frankly presuming that all lobbyists are evil, although many are, is just the height of cynicism.

On the other hand, there are honest advocates who work to further bad ideas and terrible, destructive policy, that they honestly believe is good and beneficial to the country and/or state. These should be thwarted. There are also people lobbying for good things that are doing so using dishonest practices and they should be held accountable.

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