15 Sep 2014
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Everyone Has Special Interests

Ron discusses how community members can have special interests in a cause, not just politicians.

Everyone Has Special Interests

I want to talk about the one thing that every presidential candidate, including the incumbent, seem to agree on. They all think it’s time to “get rid of those special interests that are running Washington!” 

And I’m sure that if I took a poll, 99 percent of Mount Vernonites would all agree that those pernicious, sleazy special interest folks all have to go.

What a bunch of bunk.

Sit back and think about this for a second, folks. Do you belong to AARP?  Are you a member of the Chamber of Commerce? Do you give money to the VFW, the Catholic Church or the PTA? Well, I hate to tell you this but if you do, you are one of those special interests! 

I’m not saying I know everything, but I did work on Capitol Hill for three members of Congress and then was — dare I admit it — a lobbyist for about twenty years for several different causes.  So, I have a somewhat educated perspective on those “special interests.”

The general perception is that lobbyists in three piece suits come swooping down to the Capitol every day, walk right into the Congressman’s office and tell him or her what to do. Now, years ago, when the world of politics was much more parochial, there was definitely more access to the Congress and it was relatively easy for a lobbyist to get their special tax loophole enacted without the wary eye of the press or watchdog groups like Common Cause (another special interest). But things have changed.

Yes, there are lobbyists and some of them actually do roam the halls during the vote but most of them are not talking to the Members of Congress at that point because they’ve already made their case in the weeks before the vote.  Indeed, I was always convinced that most of them were just hanging out on the Hill so they could send a memo to their clients telling them how they were up there “fighting for them.”  Indeed, there were times when I just went up there during a vote, never talked to a Member and just hung out with the other like-minded lobbyists.  I frankly felt like an idiot at times. 

For the most part, the lobbyists are there to educate the members of Congress and their staff. They send out fact sheets on bills and amendments.  The staff takes the fact sheets, along with the many other fact  sheets and compare notes. Of course, if you are a liberal member of Congress, you generally are not going to waste your time reviewing the arguments presented by the “Right Wing Voters of America.” There’s just not enough time because every member also has to give that speech to the Kiwanis Club (a special interest), take a picture with the Girl Scout troop in town, interview a new staff person or perform other mundane tasks.

At the risk of being totally objective, I will say that even Obama is full of it.  Sure, he does not talk to special interests like Planned Parenthood every day but do you honestly think that his staff just sits quietly at the computers and never to go PPFA’s website to see how they feel about family planning services?  Do you really think that during this controversy over contraception and the church that no one on Obama’s staff talked to PPFA’s lobbyists just to make sure that they had all the facts?  Also, someone was obviously talking to the Catholic Church’s lobbyists as well when they were trying to work out a compromise.

On the local level, haven’t you ever written a letter to your supervisor complaining about your taxes or supporting a new turf field?  What about all of those folks who have petitioned the Park Authority Commissioner for an off leash dog park at Westgrove? Or the folks who oppose the North Hill development? They are all representing an interest that is “special” to them.

So, let’s stop the demagoguery.  t’s the lazy way out, quit looking for scapegoats. Before you get ready to complain again about “those special interests who are running the country,’ take a look in the mirror.     

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