Lobbying on Behalf of Lobbyists
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Jack Abramoff isn't doing much to improve the image of lobbyists, so commentator Jay Bryant would like to step up to the plate in defense of lobbyists.
The First Amendment prohibits Congress from enacting five kinds of laws, and people get really worked up about four of them. Suggest restrictions on pornography, and movies will be produced glorifying Larry Flynt as a champion of free speech. Demand that a reporter reveal sources, and the reporter will cry `Freedom of the press' and go to jail rather than comply. Or worry about the cost of policing a massive demonstration, and the right of free assembly will be pursued in court. And as for religion, well, the ruckus over that one is ongoing and strident.
But when have you ever heard of someone vehemently defending the fifth right, the one that says people can petition their government for a redress of grievances? In modern times, we call that lobbying and give it all sorts of negative connotations, some deserved. So, for example, I have no interest whatsoever in defending the lobbyist Jack Abramoff. I don't know the man, but my general impression is that he's a scoundrel of the first order, as is Larry Flynt, in my view.
But I think a more balanced view of the business of lobbying and its relationship to both the Bill of Rights and government as we know it is worth considering. Lobbyists are the professionals who help the people exercise their First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances. In this regard, they're very much like journalists, who are the professionals who help the people exercise their right to a free press. In the 18th century the press was a hand-cranked printing machine. Today it's a multibillion-dollar industry.
Lobbying is big business, too, as, of course, is government. And the bigger the government, the longer its reach into every conceivable aspect of our lives, the more people its decisions impact. And what with the press and its many extensions, people are able to communicate with one another and use their right of free association to create virtual communities; you could even call them special interests. And it isn't long before these folks, now organized into their cancer survivors, homeschoolers or skimobilers clubs, determine there's something government should do, not do or stop doing about their common interest. To get more effective action, they pool their money and hire a lobbyist. One hopes those people would do a little comparison shopping and thus strike a better bargain than the casino-rich Choctaws, Chippewas and others did when they paid Abramoff something like $66 million for his services.
But that's not really the point, because while the right to lobby the government certainly has its seamy side, so does every one of those rights listed in the First Amendment. But they're our rights, all five of them, and we'd do well to preserve and protect them to the best of our ability.
BLOCK: Jay Bryant is a political consultant. He lives in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
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