Why lobbyists should welcome a transparent presidential transition
© Greg Nash

As presidential candidates begin to plan for victory in November, many will seek out the assistance of policy experts, often professional lobbyists working in Washington. Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE has already hired a well-known lobbyist, Paul Manafort, to oversee his ascension from primary contender to the GOP nominee, and another former lobbyist, John Podesta, is at the helm of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE's front-running campaign for the Democratic nomination. Manafort and Podesta have also been involved in presidential transition planning in the past, the former for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the later for Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPatagonia files suit against Trump cuts to Utah monuments Former Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report Eighth Franken accuser comes forward as Dems call for resignation MORE in 2008.

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Because pre-election transition planning has been viewed as presumptuous or arrogant, many candidates have been tight-lipped about whether planning is even occurring, let alone whether lobbyists are involved. While in previous elections, planning for the hundreds of policy and personnel decisions that must be made after the election has happened in near total secrecy, in 2016, lobbyists would benefit from much more open and transparent transition planning. Lobbyists should prefer that candidates publicly announce who is overseeing transition planning and for meetings with the transition team to be publicized on social media and even be open to the public.

For one, since transition planning before the election has historically happened in secret, most lobbyists have had limited access. When I interviewed lobbyists in 2008, many expressed a strong interest in what then-nominees Obama and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) were doing to prepare, but few had any idea who was in charge. More openness on behalf of candidates would help lobbyists simply know whom to talk to.

A more open transition period would also help lobbyists because it could reduce the deep cynicism and loathing most Americans hold toward the profession. Polling suggests that lobbyists sit below telemarketers and car salespeople in terms of perceived honesty, and this has something to do with the exaggerated image of the profession in the public eye. Most lobbyists do not resemble the ghoulish image most Americans have from recent lobbying scandals and hyperbolic media depictions. Secretive transition planning will only confirm the worst fears of voters about how policy is made in Washington and further overstate how influential lobbyists actually are.

In fact, though they may not have advocated for disclosure laws in the past, lobbyists now adhere to a range of transparency rules related to sharing information with the public. Whether it is publicly registering with Congress as a lobbyist, reporting lobbying activities on a quarterly basis, or disclosing campaign contributions to the Federal Election Commission, most aspects of a lobbyist's work are routinely shared with the public.

Finally, research shows that lobbyists favor predictability and incremental change in public policy. Transparent and open transition planning that involves a wide array of interests given a seat at the table would likely reduce the chance of radical change in policy in the next White House. While some lobbyists represent clients that wish for large-scale change, many just want to assure stability in federal policy and a seamless transition between presidents early next year.

To be sure, secrecy may work to the advantage of a small set of lobbyists, especially those who serve as campaign finance bundlers for particular candidates. Nevertheless, many lobbyists maintain strong nonpartisan views on the campaign and are eager to work with whichever candidate wins. For these lobbyists, they should push candidates to adopt policies and practices (such as those recommended last week) to be open and transparent in how they begin to plan for their presidential transition.

Candidates, the voting public and lobbyists would all benefit from an approach to the 2016 transition that adheres closely to the democratic principles at the heart of the election.

Brown is assistant professor of public policy at the City University of New York, John Jay College at the Graduate Center, and the author of "Pay-to-Play Politics: How Money Defines the American Democracy" (Praeger, 2016).