Lobbying Black Ops: Op-Ed Edition


There is an op-ed in The Hill today by lobbyist Thomas Spulak arguing that the interests that hire lobbyists are the real power-wielders in Washington, not the lobbyists. Fair enough. And Spulak states that lobbyists should consider supporting increased disclosure requirements–of the kind that Sunlight advocates for–to help remove the stain from their profession. That’s well and good. But, in this case, I feel like Spulak could have set an example by being a bit more candid in his writing. For example, this part of the op-ed stood out to me:

A recent front-page headline in The Washington Post exclaimed, “The Lobbyists Win by Killing Tax on Liquor.” Another article quoted a senator who was unhappy with the direction of the healthcare debate as saying, “[T]he lobbyists are winning.” From the sound of it, lobbyists must be the most powerful people in Washington.

Although a few lobbyists have been known to beat their chests, they are not nearly as powerful as critics would have one believe. It is the interests that lobbyists represent that have the power. When someone complains that lobbyists are winning, they may be acknowledging the lobbyists are representing differing constituency interests so compelling that they cannot be ignored.

Before anyone blames corporations, it is not necessarily business that wields the influence. Often it is average Americans for whose interests corporations and other groups mobilize. Take, for example, the headline about the liquor tax. It wasn’t the lobbyists and their clients who killed the tax increase. It was probably concerns that legislators had about the reaction of the millions of consumers who enjoy the occasional drink and who did not want to have to pay more for the pleasure. Those individuals, mostly middle- and lower-income Americans, are a powerful voting bloc.

It may have helped the reader of this op-ed, seemingly about the power of lobbyists, to know that Mr. Spulak is, in fact, a lobbyist for Bacardi, a major rum company that lobbied against said liquor tax. Perhaps, this article isn’t so much about the power of lobbyists relative to the interests who hire them, but a clever way to defend a client and their interests. Almost too clever.

(As an aside, I have also been unable to find the Washington Post article that Mr. Spulak cites on the Post site, in Google or in Nexis. I don’t get or read the dead tree version of the paper, but I’m under the impression that they don’t exclude articles printed in ink from being posted online.)