Often Portrayed as Evil, Lobbyists Perform Valuable Service

January 23, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  News

One of the basic rights in the U.S. Constitution is the right of people to redress grievances with their government.

But when some people exert that right in the state Capitol, they are portrayed in the media as evil “special interests” out to line their pockets.

As a general rule, anyone seeking to expand government and shrink the paychecks of Florida families is exempted from this label — even though they are performing the same function, and being well paid in the process.

When I covered the Legislature, I relied upon two main sources of information about issues. One was committee staff and the other was lobbyists. Staff members can tell you what a bill is intended to do and lobbyists can tell you why it should or shouldn’t be enacted.

The trick is to ask lobbyists on both sides. Only the true pros will give you his opponent’s argument. Then he will rebut it as effectively as he can.

The only time you really need to talk with politicians is when you want some quotable gloss in the form of a windy explanation of why the bill demonstrates his noble service to the people.

Lobbyists perform a valuable service to politicians. They present arguments for and against a bill.

But newspaper columnists and editorial writers are lobbyists, too, and they don’t like the competition. Ergo, the lobbyist-bashing that creeps into many an article.

Barney Bishop has been lobbying for more than 30 years. He cut his teeth by representing private investigating firms during an effort to sunset the regulation of many businesses and industries.

He recently ended a successful stint of seven years as head of Associated Industries of Florida, always described in the media as the “powerful” voice of business. Now, he is lobbying again as a freelancer.

Bishop listed — among the best of the lobbying best — such names as Scotty Frazier, Jim Krog, Buddy McCue, Ken Plante, Mac Stipanovich, H. Lee Moffitt, T.K. Wetherall, Jim Smith, Pete Dunbar, Bill Rubin, Ron Book and others.

In 2005, there was an effort to “reform” lobbying. It passed as a tradeoff to get tort reform and changed the way lobbying works, not necessarily for the better.

The main effect was to shut down some Tallahassee businesses, such as the famed Silver Slipper, where many lobbyists and politicians dined together.

Bishop said he never was successful in getting a politician’s support because of a dinner. He said it was more about building relationships and trust.

In Bishop’s view, it also has contributed to the polarization the press complains about so often. Legislators don’t socialize as much and, being term-limited, rarely have time to build relationships that might enable more compromise.

The reforms also allow the press to find out and report how much a lobbyist earns, just the kind of titillating information they dote on. Funny, they didn’t seem interested in someone’s suggestion that maybe editors and columnists should be required to report their salaries.

Not “fairness,” I guess.

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