"Myth 1: Lobbyists are all wealthy fat cats.
Oh, how I wish that were true; I might never have left the profession. Certainly, some lobbyists make out exquisitely. The Post's Citizen K Street series last year profiled lobbying star Gerald Cassidy, whose personal wealth surpasses $125 million. But many, many lobbyists toil from morning until night -- checking emails, making phone calls, writing issue papers and, yes, lobbying members of Congress and their staffers -- for salaries that make it hard to cover the cost of living in Washington. My first lobbying job after graduate school in 2001 paid $32,000 a year. That's hardly the $145,000-$160,000 (plus bonus) that first-year lawyers can expect at Washington's big firms. It's also only a little more than what a fresh college graduate makes for answering constituent mail in a congressman's office. But, with more than 30,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, not everyone can be rolling in dough or else who would do the grunt work?
Myth 2: Lobbyist is shorthand for soulless corporate shill.
Lobbyists get all kinds of flak for being intellectually promiscuous and ethically-lacking, because people assume they work for whichever, and however many, corporate clients that are willing to pay them. Some lobbyists do have a stable of different corporate clients. But many lobbyists work in-house. And it's not just corporations that hire them. So do trade associations and consumer groups, universities and state governments. There's literally a lobbyist for every cause and every issue you can think of, and a bunch of ones you've never thought of. Most people who lobby focus on a specific set of issues about which they feel pretty strongly. It's hard not to. Working 60 hours or more a week on an issue you don't care about burns you out. (I tried and failed.) Oh, and even some of those promiscuous corporate lobbyists also take work for smaller organizations representing issues near and dear to their hearts. Like everything else in life, nothing is black and white.
Myth 3: Lobbyists don't contribute anything of value to the political system.
Some lobbyists are worthless, I can't argue with that. But most of them do serve a purpose. Thousands of bills are introduced in Congress each year, hundreds will come up for consideration, and most of them generate very little constituent input. To help members decide how to vote, it would be awfully inefficient if Congressional staffers reinvented-the-wheel to research every issue. Instead, they usually try to weigh what different lobbyists with specific knowledge about that issue say. The process often helps identify why a bill may or may not be in the interest of a district, along with unintended consequences of a particular section."
Get the Story:
Megan Carpentier: 5 Myths About Lobbyists
(The Washington Post 5/24)