Citizen or Lobbyist

I thought about titling this article Citizen v. Lobbyist, but that sets up a conflict I don’t want. All citizens should want some lobbyists; the problem the American people have is many of those lobbyists push for legislation that they as private citizens oppose. The question I want to be raised in the halls of every capital from Washington, DC & Annapolis to Maine to Hawaii and from Florida to Alaska is why are all these hired guns allowed more time to speak for or against legislation when they are being paid to do so.

Don’t get me wrong I know and work closely with some of these very same lobbyists. However, the number of times I have seen a paid lobbyist needing to be corrected over one fact or another is more than I can count on all of my fingers and toes. I have cringed listening to paid lobbyists who cannot get a sentence out without at least one uh and two ums. At the same time, I have sat and listened as private citizens managed to get through their statements, fighting back tears but never stopping. In a case like this — who really is the professional? Is it the lobbyist with outdated info or the private citizen able to deliver powerful testimony because the facts are not facts to them — they are things that have happened to them or someone they love or worse loved?

Lobbyists are as the colloquialism goes a necessary evil. However, in many ways they are more destructive to a true democracy than our current two-party system, which many of our founding fathers’ opposed. It is the money paid to lobbyists that the American people want out of our politics. Most citizens don’t worry about Tammany Hall era envelopes full of money passing under the dinner table. What we worried about are the promises made over a glass Dom and an order of pâté de foie gras at that dinner table.

I knew a lobbyist so many years ago that this figure is probably wildly outdated, however that person was being paid over fifty thousand dollars a year to give essentially the same testimony as I would give. Here’s my challenge. That lobbyist got to speak at length without any clock on their remarks. I had to get creative and make the same points in less than three minutes. That was back when cannabis activist considered it a HUGE victory if the in favor witness list had thirty-five names on it. Last week when the witness was over 300 for & against that clock went down to two minutes. That’s okay I watched private citizens get even more creative, give more accurate, and more persuasive testimony and do it in less than 2:00 minutes.

Citizens United (CU) exasperated this problem. Anyone paying attention to politics in America knows about Super PACs and corporations are people ruling from the Supreme Court. They understand that CU didn’t just open up deep wallets of political corruption, they opened up the funds in the one percenter’s Swiss bank accounts.

There is a simple and equitable to solution to this situation that allows lobbyists to do their jobs while putting the average citizen on equal footing in terms of the duration of testimony. Sponsoring Senators and Delegates should be allowed to make their case fully for a piece of legislation. That is logical. It is also not logical to expect a lawmaker to know every specific nuance on a particular issue. Therefore, one paid expert, as a part of the introductory panel is reasonable.

However, after that everyone should be on the same three-minute clock, no time reductions. A surprising number of witnesses show up the legislature will have to do like any business when they are busier than expected, drop back ten yards and punt. If that means rescheduling high priced hired guns, well break the AmEx Black and bring them back another day. A lobbyist’s time cannot just because of their outrageous salaries, be more valued than the time of a sick mother like former Anne Arundel County resident Penni Lynne Day. Penni was kept waiting until after 11pm one year while FOP’s mouthpiece got to go on and on and on.

For ten years, I have put up with this inequity between private citizens who pay legislators salaries via taxes and lobbyists paid by special interest groups. I oppose them being allowed to speak without a time limit even when I agree with them.