Lobbyists to candidates: Enough’s enough

As the race for the presidency heats up, candidates are not the only ones finding themselves under attack — lobbyists are taking one on the chin, too.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney, attempting to define himself as a Washington outsider, said during the GOP presidential debate Wednesday night, for example, that he would not have “lobbyists on every elbow” in the White House.

ADVERTISEMENT
Enough’s enough, apparently. The American League of Lobbyists (ALL), a trade group for lobbyists, fired off a letter Thursday to the presidential candidates asking them to lay off.

“We are concerned that political rhetoric can unfairly characterize lobbyists, ignoring the positive contribution they make daily to the public policy process,” Brian Pallasch, the president of ALL, wrote.

As far as attacks on the profession of influence-peddling go, Romney’s remark was relatively mild. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who ended his pursuit of the Democratic nomination Wednesday, for instance, blamed healthcare lobbyists for blocking universal health insurance. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) routinely rails against special interests and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) forswears donations from federal lobbyists and uses the passage of new ethics rules, which many K Streeters believe unfairly targeted their profession, as one of his main accomplishments in Washington.

Pallasch said the remarks have had a “cumulative effect” that prompted ALL’s board to approve the letter at its last meeting on Jan. 14.

“Lobbying is an essential part of the American political process protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and regulated by federal law,” the letter states.

“At some point, we as a profession needed to stand up and say, ‘Wait a minute, come on now,’ ” Pallasch said.

For all the power K Street supposedly wields in Washington, however, lobbyists have had little luck in keeping candidates from bashing them on the campaign trail.

ALL sent a similar letter to candidates during the 2004 campaign. A better way of cooling rhetoric may be through the pocketbook. But lobbyists, who will need to work with whoever is in the White House, are contributing this year at a record pace, according to a new report from Public Citizen.