Saturday, August 01, 2009

In Which I Interview Myself

A personal email delivered to me this past week from a highly esteemed member of the alternative media referred to me using an 8-letter word -- lobbyist. As an 8-letter word might be thought of as a 4-letter word doubled, this struck me as an allegation that should be taken with the utmost seriousness. As a result, I made the decision to submit to a no holds barred interview with myself. Following is a heavily edited version of this self-interview.

Q: Are you a lobbyist?

MCO: It depends on what the meaning of "lobbyist" is. Legally speaking, no. I have not been required to register as a lobbyist under the regulations of any state or the federal government. However, I work in government relations, and much of what I do includes things that many people would think of as lobbying. If I am dealing with serious issues that require a real lobbyist, I recommend to my company that they hire one.

Q: What do you tell your parents?

MCO: Dad tells mom that I am a drug pusher. It's still hard, but it is easier for her to take.

Q: Have you written legislation?

MCO: Yes.

Q: How do you sleep at night?

MCO: I use a CPAP machine due to my sleep apnea. Thanks for asking.

Q: Seriously, does it bother you that people like yourself help to write legislation?

MCO: No, not really. Actually, I think it is important that we do so in order to make sure that legislation makes sense. Many times, legislators do not really understand the issues that they work on. It is often the case that proposed laws create problems, not because they are bad for my company, but because they don't make any sense in terms of how things operate in the real world. Having people involved that understand the business helps to make sure that the laws that are passed make sense.

Also, most legislation of any significance involves negotiation with people on all sides of the issue. While such collaboration frequently results in legislation that is less than ideal from anyone's perspective, it also means that everyone gets a say in the process before legislation is passed.

Q: How much money have you donated in order to do this?

MCO: None.

Q: What's your loophole?

MCO: There is none. I have never, either directly or indirectly, either personally or professionally, made donations to a candidate, party, or campaign organization. I don't think there is anything wrong with it, and at some time in the future I might, but I never have.

Q: Do campaign donations buy votes?

MCO: Not typically. The only advantage is that they probably gain you access. It is helpful in getting someone to listen to your arguments.

Q: Does that mean that you defend everything that lobbyists do?

MCO: Obviously not. Search on this blog for the name "Abramoff" and you will find my numerous criticisms of corruption in the business. Every profession has its bad apples, and lobbyists are no different. However, most are honorable people.

Many of the problems seem to show up in the pursuit of appropriations -- earmarks and other kinds of favors. I am not involved in that sort of thing. I don't seek money. I am involved in policy debates. That is not to say that all people seeking appropriations are bad people, but I am strongly opposed to earmarks.

Q: How does your work in government relations affect your blogging?

MCO: Well, I sometimes get to attend interesting meetings that I can write about. However, for the most part I don't write about issues that I work on. I have to write about those things at work, and the blog is for fun -- it is an opportunity to write about things I think about away from work. I have made a few exceptions to that, but for the most part I have kept to it. It is only fair, particularly since I write under a thin veil of anonymity.

Q: Don't you work for a health care company? I know you have written about health care.

MCO: The general health care debate affects my company, but to this point it does not impact the niche that I work in myself. My writing about health care represents my understanding of issues outside my specialized area of expertise, though I do think I have knowledge that adds to the debate. While I disagree with what the President is promoting, I also have some rather strong disagreements with some of his conservative opponents.

And, by the way, I sometimes take positions on issues that differ with my employer's. As an example, I was personally opposed to the stimulus bill, though there were aspects of it that were viewed favorably by my company.

Q: What do you think of ethics laws addressing lobbyists?

MCO: Most of them don't do any harm, but they aren't terribly effective at weeding out corruption either. Some of them are harmful, in that laws that make lobbying more difficult also make those who govern more distant from the people in general.

The best laws are those that provide for transparency. Worrying about whether someone took a legislator to dinner is a waste of time. If votes are for sale, it is not for the cost of dinner.

Q. Any other thoughts that you would like to share? I know this is a real softball. I should be embarrassed.

MCO: People blame lobbyists for things that they really should blame legislators for. The right to petition government is an important constitutional right. We should expect legislators to listen to the cacophony of interests and then make decisions that are both wise and courageous. Silencing the voices seeking to influence them is exactly the wrong approach.

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