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'We're citizens, too,' lobbyists remind Obama, McCain
Published: Friday June 6, 2008

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As Barack Obama and John McCain heap unending criticism on lobbyists in their race for the White House, an association representing the public policy advocates is trying to remind everyone that lobbyists are people too.

"What I have trouble with is the hypocritical nature of these comments," said lobbyists' lobbyist Brian Pallasch. "Both candidates have worked with lobbyists, recognize the value of their input, received legal campaign contributions from lobbyists, and yet never hesitate to throw us to the wolves when it behooves them to do so."

Like clergymen and journalists, lobbyists' jobs are protected by the First Amendment, which enshrines the right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances," along side protections for religion, speech, a free press and public assembly.

"The general public has the misperception about the role that lobbyists play in the democratic process," Pallasch, president of the American League of Lobbyists, said in a press release Friday. "Most citizens don't realize the number of benefits they enjoy because of lobbyists - the deductibility of home mortgage interest, federal loans for college students, clean-up of the environment, and this list goes on."

While Jack Abramoff's misdeeds tainted all practicers of his former profession, certainly not every single one of the 30,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, DC, are corrupt influence-peddlers. Indeed, virtually every organization employs lobbyists -- from the ACLU to the Sierra Club to advocates of Net Neutrality. It's not all Big Oil and Big Pharma, although they're certainly prolific practicers of the lobbying trade.

McCain was instrumental in investigating Abramoff's misdeeds as chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, although he has come under substantial fire for employing and relying on scores of current and former lobbyists in his campaign. Obama has vowed now to accept donations from registered lobbyists or Political Action Committees, and has promised not to let lobbyists "work in my White House." He, too, has been criticized for taking donations from employees of lobbying law firms, former lobbyists and state lobbyists.

The lobbyists' association press release says lobbyists have received a bum rap.

"The role of lobbyists is to educate and inform members of Congress on issues that will come before them for a vote," it says. "Lobbyists provide information about policy issues affecting business, labor, not-for-profit organizations, and professions that are represented in Washington, DC and state Capitols. In fact, much of the information provided to elected officials by lobbyists is not available from any other source, and the increasing complexity of modern life requires more, not less, information be made available to policymakers."