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That Depends on What the Definition of ‘Lobbying’ Is…

When Bill Clinton famously justified his perjury by arguing the meaning of the word “is”, it took semantic nonsense to a whole new level. His whole statement, however, was more than the one sentence, and really captures the bizarre parlor games politicians and lawyers will try to play with words to avoid responsibility.

“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement….Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

The lengths to which DC politicos will go to hide from the public is truly astounding, and today has seen a whole new level reached.  Consider the ridiculous semantic gymnastics on display here.

Business Forward and a similar group, the Common Purpose Project, say the meetings don’t violate any rules and aren’t even lobbying in the traditional sense. But the companies funding Business Forward and the wealthy donors that subsidize CPP ’s operation are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year in large part because of what they offer: special access. …

“Common Purpose Project was founded to support the progressive movement, and our outreach efforts to the White House are designed to promote the progressive agenda,” said Smith, who also sits on Business Forward’s board. “When a legislative issue develops some urgency, we’re positioned to convene key progressive players to focus on that issue and invite the White House to participate in a dialogue.”

I’ve been in DC for 12 years now, and involved in politics for 20.  I’ve been watching politics, thanks to my folks, for about 40.  In all that time, I have never seen a line of semantic nonsense this deep.

The definition of lobbying is pretty clear:

a group of persons who work or conduct a campaign to influence members of a legislature to vote according to the group’s special interest; to try to influence the actions of (public officials, especially legislators); to urge or procure the passage of (a bill), by lobbying.

Now it seems pretty clear that a legislative issue typically develops urgency when its passage or failure is about to be determined through either a vote or by being scuttled.  Should you convene a dialogue to discuss the passage or failure of that legislative issue, and invite both public officials and special interests to participate, you are lobbying, dammit.

Lobbying, whether you approve of the practice or not, has been a part of our government since the beginning, and as long as we have underpaid and overworked staffers working for underinformed and overzealous legislators, we’re going to have people that want, and frankly need, to explain complex issues.  They are going to hear from people whose livelihood will be impacted by bad decisions in DC.

That’s a fact that all the denunciations of lobbying and all the effort to call it something else will never prevent.

Lobbyists are typically honest about their craft.  They understand their place in the world and the skills they have.  Think of Nick Naylor in Thank You For Smoking.

BF and CPP are right. We shouldn’t call them lobbyists.  To do so demeans the hard-working lobbyist. BF and CPP are a breed of animal that resides six levels deeper in the strata of prehistoric frog feces that is DC.

If lobbying is a game of whores and thieves, BF and CPP are little better than pimps who simply schedule the hotel rooms where the action takes place.  They willingly arrange “dates” between their upscale clientele and the low-dollar working girls (and boys) in Congress and the White House.

Shame on them for trying to hide what they are, and shame on the American people for continually letting people and groups like this foist blatant lies and verbal contortions upon them.

Written by Michael Turk