By Robert "Bud" Cramer - 11/10/09 11:29 PM EST
In fact, that is why I joined 17 of my colleagues in forming the Blue Dog Coalition back in 1994. The Blue Dogs have been in the spotlight more recently, but back then we worked with both sides of the aisle in relative obscurity, taking a common-sense, pragmatic approach to address our most challenging issues.
While I weighed my decision on whether to retire from Congress, I talked to a variety of people who made similar transitions. I wasn’t sure where I’d end up, but I knew it needed to be somewhere that respected my bipartisan approach. One of my early conversations was with Anne Wexler, a dynamic businesswoman and policy expert from the Carter administration who founded the Wexler Group in 1981.
Anne’s view of lobbying and public policy advocacy aligned perfectly with mine — namely, that one cannot rely on personal ties to convince, but rather must be able to make a strong case based on facts.
It’s not whom you know but what you know that produces good policy, which is a valuable lesson for us all. As someone trained as an attorney who was expected to understand the details of an issue, I appreciated her no-nonsense, in-the-weeds approach. I think Anne’s belief was best captured when she told the National Journal, “Our job is to create lobbyists. We do that by educating people on the substance of the issues.”
All of us know the lobbying profession has received its share of criticism in recent years, and in some cases for good reason. There have been too many cases of individuals who abused the system and put personal gain ahead of not only the public good, but the law. This is why the rest of us have to work even harder to adhere to nothing less than the highest ethical standards, following all the rules and regulations to the letter and the spirit of the law.
In the effort to deal with the abuses, let’s not lose sight of the fact that some of the smartest, most capable and trustworthy people contribute incredible expertise and value to lawmakers and policy influencers every day, and we all benefit from this input.
As a sitting member of Congress, I greatly appreciated the information provided by a variety of stakeholders. On any given day, a member and his or her staff work on dozens of issues, from global warming to education to healthcare to foreign affairs. In order to stay educated and informed, he or she relies heavily on the expertise of a variety of people. Multiple voices and perspectives are critical to a member’s ability to develop and implement solutions that work. This is something I now keep at the top of my mind as I assume the role I valued from the other side.
Cramer is chairman of Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates. He was a member of Congress from 1990 to 2008, representing Alabama’s 5th district, and a co-founder of the Blue Dog Coalition.