The Tortured Life of Lobbyists

Life ain’t easy for a powerful special interest lobbyist. 

First, lobbyists are compelled to interact with politicians – often several times in each day – and are forced to constantly treat them nicely.  

Second, the public has a lousy perception of lobbying, viewing it as basically a kissing cousin to the world’s oldest profession. With none of the pluses. 

A lobbyist’s life is particularly doleful this time of year when lawmakers rouse themselves from three months of somnolence and bloat their committee agendas with hundreds of pieces of legislation that must be carefully considered, closely scrutinized and judiciously weighed in two three-and-one-half day work weeks.  

Lobbyists with multiple clients are forced to gamely try to attend multiple committee hearings at once. And whichever hearing rooms are involved are always the ones most distant from each other. 

There’s eminent domain legislation in Senate Local Government in Room 113 at the same time Assembly Health considers reducing hospital profitability three floors above in Room 4202 in the other wing of the Capitol. 

Meanwhile, the lobbyist, despite receipt of numerous text messages on his Crackberry from increasingly panicked clients, remains chained to a witness chair in Room 444 where some knucklehead Democrat — GOP readers would say that’s redundant – chews on the lobbyist for being a pimp for toxic polluters in order to curry a campaign endorsement from some group of furry environmentalists. 

Being chewed on by lawmakers is an unavoidable workplace hazard for lobbyists. 

Former state Sen. Quentin Kopp of San Francisco was a gifted scourge and, as a bonus, routinely provided educational opportunities for lobbyists by using words that, in some cases, had meanings unique to him. 

The Q once drove a labor lobbyist to the dictionary four times by calling him a “dissembler by means of spurious and arcane questioning” whose arguments were “equally disingenuous.” 

Sadly, Q-Ball is no longer around and all that remains is the chewing. It’s not pretty particularly since most of the time it’s a rant about something the legislation in question doesn’t do or focuses on a completely unrelated topic. Focus is perhaps the wrong word since most of these screeds tend toward Mad-Lib-like gibberish. 

Less experienced lobbyists often have trouble bearing up under such abuse. 

One law enforcement lobbyist spent six years fighting the urge to whip out a pistol and confront his legislative accuser: “You witless pinhead, you wouldn’t know what this bill really did if it sneaked up and bit you on your more than ample gluts which, based on the remarks you’ve just made, appear to be the location of what little brains you possess.” 

Or words to that effect. 

Today, however, when Senator Dim Bulb or Assemblywoman Dull Razor light into him, criticizing his legislation as the proximate cause of civilization’s downfall, this lobbyist stoically bears the suffering, serenely focused on thoughts of fly-fishing or family. 

“Thank you, senator, for the extreme kindness you shown by reminding me I am pond scum and that my bill is an abomination in the eyes of all who hold fairness and justice sacred. Could you spare me just one more tongue-lashing, please? I have a second bill.” 

The vicissitudes of lobbying are compounded by the Democratic majority Legislature’s current policy of stoutly refusing to kill any legislation except measures authored by Republicans or containing a flicker of rationality. Bills that share both qualities are dispatched immediately – with extreme prejudice. 

This policy rips away at least half of the psychic reward lobbyists once clung to as modest recompense for the horrors they experience daily. 

How can lobbyists possibly feel good about themselves if they can no longer telephone their clients and say, “Hey, did I ever pull your fat out of the fire today. That bill that was going to cost you millions almost got out of committee but I turned around an Assemblyman and the whole thing went down in flames.” 

What possible satisfaction is there for a lobbyist in the indignity of being required to “work with the opponents” to find an acceptable compromise? It can’t be much of a thrill for the client either who would just as soon drive a stake into the forehead of any dullard who doesn’t share their vision. 

If the Legislature isn’t careful, lobbyists may surpass dentists as the profession with the highest level of suicide. 

Not only is the White Sepulcher infested with legislators it is routinely filled with hordes of citizenry operating under the illusion their voice might impact the legislative process.  To say nothing of all the damn schoolchildren. 

Members of numerous trade associations or unions descend like locust on the Capitol each day. Hallways are choked with realtors, people in purple t-shirts or funny hats, guys in those white coats doctors and butchers wear, nametags dangling from their necks. 

These folks appear to believe that by journeying to Sacramento and personally explicating their needs, goals and wants for a legislator or, more likely, a staff member, the legislative process will be positively influenced. 

Marshland salesmen would make a killing off these guys. 

This Tuesday, for example, members of the California Medical Association, an anti-cancer group and a gaggle of optometrists converged on the Capitol. The most positive aspect of the day was that if anyone fell ill they would be likely to get treatment quickly. 

So on one of the busiest legislative easy of 2008, with hundreds of lobbyists needing to be in three committee hearings at once, a mass of humanity clogs the hallways, creating an ever-shifting slalom course.  

It’s a wonder lobbyists get anything accomplished given the occupational pitfalls. 

Brutal enough that they spend their day with spleen-venting politicians but after a day of such profound suffering, do they get to limp home to the comforting bosom of their family? 

Hell, no. They have to hang out with politicians some more. And pay for the additional pain! 

Imagine just how low you would feel in a job in which you are regularly treated like dirt, your client is anathema and you can’t even kill some stupid bill aimed at putting your client into bankruptcy. At the same time, the very people inflicting this punishment besiege you with a torrent of requests for campaign contributions to help them continue in public office and further torment you. 

That’s pretty much the Ninth Ring of Dante’s Inferno. 

Truly, a wonder more lobbyists don’t go down from the pressure, let alone the health risk of extended exposure to lawmakers.

 It’s a good thing lobbyists keep muddling through though because – yet another indignity – there’s no Old Lobbyists Home like there is for more glamorous, better-image professions, like acting.  


Filed under: Venting


  1. This column is classic Greg Lucas. I love it.

    Comment by Ms. Oakland — 4.16.2008 @ 8:14 pm

  2. I appreciate the handful of lobbyists that actually subject themselves to this process.

    I see so many examples of lobbyists who watch what happens on Cal Channel and explain to their clients how they changed the course of history.

    I don’t comment very often but I read everything you write and think it is a very valuable addition to the capitol conversation.

    Comment by Russell — 4.17.2008 @ 7:44 am

  3. Wow! After watching our tortured lobbyists at the ol’ California Manufacturers & Technology Assn. for almost 13 years, your piece outlines, with the utmost perspicacity, the non UN Nations sanctioned torture they incur under and around the Dome on L Street.

    I’m just the communications geek for the Association so I only buy the popcorn, watch with dismay and bloviate about it from time to time. But Dot Rothrock and lobbying crew just read your piece and I swear they’re running up and down the halls screaming, “Gooooooal!” They feel vindicated and you’ve given them reason to continue through many more years of playing Legislative Bingo. As a huge fan of our team, I thank you.

    Great stuff on this Blog, Mr. Lucas. Only you could throw around “Q-ball” with such professionalism and acumen.

    Comment by Gino — 4.17.2008 @ 8:54 am

  4. “The most positive aspect of the day was that if anyone fell ill they would be likely to get treatment quickly.”

    Probably not, as they’d be out of network…

    Comment by NoOneInParticular — 4.17.2008 @ 9:42 am

  5. Thank you, Greg, for recognizing the plight of these unsung heroes of our democracy. On behalf of the 3,000 lobbyists in California, can we get some more benches and a little A/C in the 3rd floor hallways? Please!

    Comment by Sore Feet — 4.17.2008 @ 6:46 pm

  6. I believe the term that best describes most of these legislators is – No Talent Ass Clown.

    Comment by Just another lobbyist — 4.24.2008 @ 8:42 pm

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