It is hard not to appreciate the rhetorical flourish contained in Senator Obama’s recent critique of the McCain campaign’s ties to lobbying interests, “that lobbyists aren't just part of the system in Washington, they're part of the problem." It was a kitschy, sound-bite ready statement that, while cleverly worded, may be a bit simplistic. The fact of the matter is that lobbying is rooted in the right to petition contained in the First Amendment of the Constitution, and goes back to the Bill of Rights in England and the Magna Carta. The right to petition the government is one of the cornerstones of Democracy, and abridging that right by forcing petitioners to resign from political campaigns just doesn’t sit well with me.
While I am willing to concede that at times special interest lobbyists have held inordinate influence over the political process in Washington, lobbyists actually play an essential role in the political process. By addressing government directly, lobbyists pray for relief in a manner that often cannot be addressed by legislation or judicial intervention. At various times in the history of our country, most notably during the anti-slavery debates of the mid-nineteenth century, petitioning Congress proved to be an invaluable strategy for addressing the ills of slavery – a practice that was legally sanctioned at the time.
Certainly the evolving complexity of government regulations has placed our country in the position that the average citizen (whether human or corporate) often has no idea who to turn to in order to address his or her grievances. Government has in some cases become such a labyrinth that even the representatives themselves are scarcely able to navigate the corridors of power. Thus, professional lobbyists play an important role in both informing the process, providing analysis for complex issues, and representing issues in a more immediate and direct sense than elections alone.
In fact, if he were to be elected, Obama would need information generated by lobbyists and think tanks in order to inform policy choices. That’s because even the most capable of administrations is hardly equipped to digest the deluge of policy papers, draft legislation, and judicial precedent that flood the nation’s capital on a daily basis. He will have to start somewhere, and that somewhere will be where the people have directed their own focus in the form of issue-based, grass roots lobbying.