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The role of education in advancing the lobbying

Howard Marlowe Marlowe & Company, LLC, 1667K Street, NW, Washington DC 20006, USA. Abstract While lobbying is not usually viewed as one of life’s higher callings, those who engage in public policy advocacy are essential to the workings of any representative system of government. As a lobbyist, I view myself as a skilled professional who understands governmental processes and is fully aware of the laws that govern my profession. However, a profession is not just a group of individuals and requires a collective infrastructure. This article advances the proposition that, for lobbying to be considered a profession, a structured-educational program that teaches a common core of knowledge is critical. The Association of Government Relations Professionals (AGRP) has successfully sponsored its Lobbying Certificate Program (LCP) for a decade. This LCP has demonstrated that the essential knowledge base needed to be a lobbyist can be taught in a program operated by the professional association representing lobbyists in the United States. Using the faculty resources of the profession and the academic community, the LCP enables AGRP to provide a significant benefit to both new and experienced lobbyists while both furthering the professionalism of public policy advocates and producing significant revenues for AGRP. The article discusses the limitations of the LCP and argues for it to be sanctioned by the US Congress. Interest Groups & Advocacy (2015) 4, 65–75. doi:10.1057/iga.2014.23; published online 3 February 2015 Keywords: lobbying; education; association; advocacy A recent meeting I attended in a Federal courthouse building in Washington DC, helped me to focus on the importance of education in advancing both the effectiveness of lobbying and the public perception of the profession. Although the meeting had nothing to do with lobbying, it was my entrance to that very imposing building that was enlightening. There were several security officers, one of whom asked me if I was an attorney. It seems that lawyers are afforded a speedier screening and, perhaps more importantly, may keep their cell phones. I am a law school graduate but have never been admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia or any other State of the Union and have therefore never practiced as a professional lawyer. © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2047-7414 Interest Groups & Advocacy Vol. 4, 1, 65–75 www.palgrave-journals.com/iga/ Had I answered the guard’s question affirmatively, the officer would have required me to show my membership in the District of Columbia Bar as proof of my profession. One cannot be admitted to practice law without successful completion of the requisite courses at an accredited school of law followed by passing an examination and the issuance of a license that can be revoked for conduct that is unprofessional or illegal.1 I could only meet the first of these requirements and thus had to be frisked and was required to part with my cell phone. As I awaited my meeting, I reflected on the law school courses I had taken. At least in my first and second years, most covered the same subject matter taught at every other law school. Torts, contracts, wills and such are components of a common body of essential knowledge for all those who intend to practice law. Upon graduation, there is a test, called a Bar examination, that must be successfully completed, in order to become a professional lawyer. For most of the past 40 years, I have thought of myself as a professional lobbyist, being paid by clients to lobby to represent their interests before Congress and various Federal agencies. Not once has my knowledge of the governmental process or of the laws governing my profession ever been tested. My educational training for being a lobbyist consisted of fulfilling the course requirements needed to be awarded a Bachelor of Science in Economics with a major in political science. After squeaking through law school, I taught at the high school and college levels before good fortune brought me toWashington DC in the employ of a United States Senator. Throughout most of those years, I had no idea what lobbying involved and never entertained the thought that I might one day become a lobbyist. What is a Lobbyist? Over the past two decades, lobbying has undergone changes that are more pronounced than 20 years before that. To a significant extent, lobbyists rely far more on technology to gather information and disseminate a message. Between college and law school, I had my first experience working in a political campaign for a candidate who sought to unseat a incumbent member of Congress. The opposition research I was paid to perform was done by the painstaking and time-consuming task of reading publications that listed the votes of our opponent or statements they had made on the floor of the House of Representatives. Not much had changed many years later when I got my first job as a lobbyist. I read through publications searching for information and then placing it into a word processor. Since I was new to the profession, I had little personal knowledge of how to target and gain support from my lobbying efforts and sought to use technology to help me fill the gap. I was able to get my employer to use a fax machine network to get actionable information to our affiliates in all 50 states and use ‘personalized’ postcards for the group’s members to send to their elected officials in support or opposition to various measures before Congress. Marlowe 66 © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2047-7414 Interest Groups & Advocacy Vol. 4, 1, 65–75 These were cutting edge efforts at the time. Today, lobbyists can acquire information about votes, issues, members of Congress from many reliable sources. Nevertheless, we still use that information to persuade elected officials to take some action that pertains to legislation. The essence of our work has not changed; the tools we use to do it have. The same impact that I used to stir grassroots action via postcards is now done by highly targeted efforts using sophisticated traditional- and social-media campaigns. There are those who claim that the individuals involved in these types of efforts are also lobbyists. I disagree. They may be part of a lobbying program but they are not making direct contacts with elected officials. When I put together my postcard campaigns 35 years ago, I used a direct mail firm and a public opinion polling firm as essential components of those campaigns. They were no more lobbyists than are their higher-tech equivalents of the early twenty-first century. Lobbyists use different skills than those in public relations, media, or pollsters. We need to determine whom to lobby, how to reach the targeted officials effectively, when to reach them and so on. At the heart of our profession, we need to be experts on the legislative process and the elected officials and their staff aides because we are an integral part of that process. If there were an Advocacy University, it would have different sets of courses for lobbyists, communications, polling and the like. Education as an Essential Component of Any Profession Had I wished to be a barber or a cosmetologist in Washington DC, I would have been required to attend classes for at least 500 hours and pass an examination before receiving a license. I would also be required to take six hours of continuing education courses every 2 years in order to maintain my license and presumably face the loss of that license for some act that is deemed unprofessional, unethical and unlawful. The educational requirements for barbers and similar professions exist to foster a basic level of proficiency. One can hang on an office wall a framed certificate that is tangible proof that the educational requirements of the profession have been met. While the juxtaposition of attorneys and cosmeticians may seem quixotic, there are essential similarities between these professions. Each requires a specific level of education provided by an accredited institution. Each also confers a license upon those who successfully meet these requirements, requires a level of continuing education, and has a mechanism for revoking that license for the purpose of professional punishment. Education, examination, licensing and enforcement of standards are the commonalities of these two distinctly different professions. To a significant extent, they are the commonalities of most occupations that can be justifiably called professions. Lobbying lacks an accreditation process and a policing mechanism sanctioned by law for both admission and expulsion (McGrath, 2005). At least in the United States, the constitutional right to freedom of speech makes it impossible to deny anyone the right to lobby – or the right to be paid to lobby. However, that constitutional right The role of education in advancing the lobbying profession © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2047-7414 Interest Groups & Advocacy Vol. 4, 1, 65–75 67 does not prohibit the regulation of paid lobbyists.2 Indeed, the Federal government, each of our 50 States, and increasing numbers of local governments, all have laws regulating lobbying and each has differing definitions of who is covered.3 None of these regulatory schemes has a training or testing requirement with the exception of those states that require lobbyists to take a one-session course or listen to a brief lecture on ethics and legalities. It is often said that lobbying is the second-oldest profession. While I have never seen the two pitted against each other in an opinion poll, the verdict of the public is that there is no profession that has less honesty and lower-ethical standards than lobbying.4 We have never been ranked anywhere near the top of the professional hit parade, but to be viewed at the very bottom of the list – just below members of Congress – is damning to each of us who is a lobbyist and a significant deterrent to our ability to attract young people into the field of public policy advocacy. Nevertheless, I hear no expressions of concern about this sad state of affairs from the lobbying community. Indeed, we let the criticism roll off our collective backs and make the obstinate assumption that we will survive the calumny with our incomes intact if we just stay below the radar. Lobbyists are too easy a media target for such a strategy to succeed. One can argue whether we should care about public opinion, but the consistent bashing of lobbyists in the media and from the mouths of some politicians has contributed to the early retirement of experienced lobbyists while negatively affecting the numbers and quality of new entrants to our profession. The danger is that lobbyists will begin to emulate the tactics the public attributes to us which, in fact, are more akin to the style of lobbying in the late nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century that was based on money, gifts, and other activities that lower the standards of our profession (Jacob, 2010). The danger of retrogression is not far-fetched. It was not that long ago that the leaders of our craft were those who touted who they knew rather than what they knew. In my first job as a lobbyist, I was criticized for using a fact sheet to support my case and knew several lobbyists who never let the facts get in their way. I was fortunate to have received so much of my on-the-job training under the tutelage of two men, both of whom had many years of experience and each of whom was happy to share with me their knowledge and wisdom. I take the same approach with my own staff. One does not learn unless he or she is put in a position to make mistakes.My mentors gave me both responsibility and authority. Undoubtedly I have made some mistakes, but to paraphrase the Frank Sinatra song, they have been too few to remember. The unpleasant experiences I recall are ones that taught me lessons about trust, or more accurately, the lack thereof. On two occasions, I gave members of Congress my own opinion about a legislative matter that differed from that of my employer. Although the matter was not one on which I had any lobbying responsibility and I had cautioned that my views were in confidence, they got back to my employer. Trust is important to many relationships, but it is critical to lobbying. Elected officials must know that they can trust my character and knowledge, and that Marlowe 68 © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2047-7414 Interest Groups & Advocacy Vol. 4, 1, 65–75 they can say things in confidence that I will not reveal. In the two blunders I made, I found that elected officials may not have those values. I have learned to take verbal abuse from members of Congress for acts committed by a client without revealing the true culprit. Today, most lobbyists are valued for their knowledge of both the issues they work on and the legislative process. To be sure, there are a number of lobbyists who sell their access to particular elected officials as the key to their success (Bertrand et al, 2011). There are others – an increasing number in the United States regrettably – who gain their access by raising political contributions for members of Congress. This type of lobbyist still needs to know enough of the substance and politics of the process so they can put their access to use in the most effective manner possible. While I have often said that lobbyists come in different sizes, shapes and flavors, all of us are working in an environment that is changing significantly with the decentralization of congressional power and the increasing sophistication of lobbying tactics and techniques. If we ignore these realities, we risk a significant loss in the quality of the work we do. The Essential Role of Education for the Lobbying Profession The key to avoiding this pitfall is required training and continuing education for all lobbyists. The greatest obstacle to achieving that goal is the overwhelming number of lobbyists who would never voluntarily support such a requirement. It is often claimed that lobbying is the most regulated profession in the United States. Whether or not that is the case – and I doubt that it is – there is very little recognition in the lobbying community that effective lobbying requires each of us to possess a common body of essential knowledge. First on the list are the statutory requirements that apply to lobbying.5 We are supposed to file registration forms and periodic reports with Congress stating who is paying us to lobby, how much we are being paid, and the specific issues on which we are being paid to lobby. While the glaring loopholes in the registration law at the federal level are not the subject of this article, those 12 000 of us who are covered by it must abide by it. Random audits are done to assess compliance. Egregious violations are subject to criminal penalties. Equally important are the laws regulating political contributions as well as the requirement that registered lobbyists report their political contributions to Congress. Finally, there is the somewhat infamous Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, passed in the wake of the scandal involving the so-called lobbyist Jack Abramoff. That Act has many Do’s and Don’ts which essentially prohibit lobbyists from paying for as little as a cup of coffee consumed by an elected official or staff aide. As with all legislation, the devil is in the details. However the mere perception that we have crossed over a prohibited threshold can be quite harmful to the one attribute that is most dear, our reputation. The role of education in advancing the lobbying profession © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2047-7414 Interest Groups & Advocacy Vol. 4, 1, 65–75 69 In addition to possessing a solid knowledge of the legislative process and of the laws that govern lobbying, there is also the need to conduct oneself in an ethical manner. More than two decades ago, the American League of Lobbyists adopted a Code of Ethics in order to ‘strengthen our image and enhance our role as a vital and respected link in the democratic process’.6 It is noteworthy that the first of those two goals shows an understandable concern about the public’s perception of lobbyists as influence peddlers and the like. (As an aside, equally noteworthy is the fact that the American League of Lobbyists changed its name in 2013 to the Association of Government Relations Professionals (AGRP). It appears that the word ‘lobbyist’ comes with more baggage than even its national association can handle.) The Code has been viewed by lobbying associations in many of our 50 States as well as those in other countries as a worthwhile model that addresses essential issues such as honesty, integrity, avoidance of conflicts of interest and due diligence. Can Lobbying be Taught? Many years ago, I worked with The American University in Washington DC to establish a Lobbying Institute to teach lobbying. While the Institute thrives,7 albeit having dropped the word ‘lobbying’ from its name, I became acutely aware of my inability to teach a student how to be an effective lobbyist. One can no more be taught to be an effective lobbyist than he or she can be taught to be an effective lawyer.8 There are a variety of nuances to the work we do that require a combination of innate abilities and experience. I once worked for a national association whose state affiliate had supported an unsuccessful challenger to a long-term incumbent. During the race, the incumbent was afflicted with a case of acute appendicitis. He blamed the state and national associations for putting him in the hospital and never again voted in their favor. On another occasion, I was in charge of a legislative amendment that had passed the House of Representatives. As it was being debated on the floor of the Senate, it became clear that it would not pass. A mentor advised that I act to pull the amendment so that it would not suffer a defeat. We succeeded in getting it included in the final version of the bill by focusing our efforts on the Conference Committee that resolved the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill we sought to amend. This is knowledge that can only be gained on the job. It cannot be taught. Nevertheless, there is a body of knowledge that should be taught as a requirement to be a registered lobbyist in the United States.9 The curriculum should begin with the structure and functions of the various components of government and extend to the more complex details of certain governmental processes such as budgeting and procedural rules. Furthermore, the laws regulating lobbying and the consequences for failure to obey them are also well-suited candidates for an educational curriculum. It is equally possible to include courses in lobbying tactics and techniques in the curriculum. Marlowe http://www.palgrave-journals.com/iga/journal/v4/n1/full/iga201423a.html 70 © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2047-7414 Interest Groups & Advocacy Vol. 4, 1, 65–75


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