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debunking myths on lobbying…and my last mtg with the State Department

April 20, 2009

there are so many…here’s round 1….if anyone else wants to chime in please do!

Myth 1: FCNL Lobbyists Only Lobby the Hill

Several of the most exciting meetings I’ve had since coming to work here have been within the administration, usually at the State Department.

Last week I participated in a wonderful meeting with State Department officials working on Iraq. Since Iraq faded from the headlines, I’m starting to relate to people who work on obscure issues and finally get to meet one of the formal experts on that obscure issue. Like when someone who lobbies for subsidies of bread twistie-tie production finally meets that special person in government who monitors the subsidies that make twistie-ties so cheap for U.S. bread consumers.

(And yes, that is how obscure Iraq is beginning to feel in post-“surge” days.)

Another very exciting incident of lobbying outside of Congress: FCNL got to have a representative on a conference call with George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s special envoy for the Middle East, who is in the Middle East as I write this.

George Mitchell is known as a “peacemaker at large”, known as instrumental in negotiating the Good Friday agreement, a key peace treaty in resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland. His new job: “Peace in the Middle East”. I hope he takes time to meditate.

Myth 2: Lobbying is by definition convincing people of your position

A lot of lobbying is simply getting information. As a child of the internet-age, I have to say I’m amazed at how much important information simply just isn’t on the internet. A lot of our meetings, whether in Congress or the administration, is simply about asking questions and learning from these folks–so we get to be our own press (except without the advantage of being in the right position to publicize the answers all over the world).

From rumors about when the supplemental will be marked up in committee to the gossip on the Hill about what Rep. X REALLY thinks about Iran after making a hostile statement, I am constantly reminded of just how “human” the Hill really is. We all stare at our computers and blackberries (for those who have them) all day, but the juicy and invaluable pieces of info come from the conversations with people.

All the more reason why it is so exciting to occasionally leave the Hill and make your way to Foggy Bottom. Once you get through all the security checks, the mandatory accompanied walk through long narrow hospital like corridors, and finally make your way to the meeting room and take a look around you, there is this feeling of relief. Not because of the high security you just survived–so intensive that a friend of mine who attended the Iraq State Department meeting said that if he were a member of Congress, he would feel offended.

But simply because its fun to see the folks who aren’t running in the flurry of political cycles, but rather the folks who stay focused on a country. Whether or not I agree with their positions on what U.S. policy should be toward that country, it is reaffirming to meet people who live and breathe these issues that aren’t so tied to the pulse of the media headlines.

Myth 3: Lobbying is just for lobbyists

NO! Here’s my main message on lobbying–U.S. politics will truly be revolutionized when lobbying becomes a household (and clean) word. It simply means communicating with your member of Congress and the administration that exists to represent the American people.

It’s really just communication–and come on folks–we shouldn’t even need a whole new vocabulary word to describe communicating with Congress and the administration.

I remember learning at FCNL’s Annual Meeting that the average congressional office only hears from 2% of its constituents ever!

Just sit back and imagine who what sort of very unrepresentative sample of folks would fit into that 2% group. And most people actually lobbying (i.e. making direct visits to congressional offices) are not constituents but paid lobbyists. And people lobbying for bread twistie-tie subsidies are probably more numerous in scope than peace lobbyists.

Myth 4: Lobbying isn’t the single most important thing to revolutionize politics in America

For proof–just imagine what it would be like if we raised that percentage of constituents who are ever heard from in their congressional office from 2% to 10%. Now from 10% to 20%. Imagine the new voices and visions. Now 100%!!

Fully imagine that and you will convince yourself without any further evidence offered from me.

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