Our Dirty Little (Not So) Secret
I once believed that lobbyists worked hard. I believed they passionately believed in their client’s goals. They would go from office to office working to persuade legislators of the virtue of a cause. I thought they were silver tongues, with impeccable logic, and the very best information to back them up. Actually some such exist and most are known as ineffectual.
I also believed that people of good intent, significant intelligence, and a servants heart get elected. They make promises they expect to honor only to find in office things are more complicated. I imagined that they knew more than us. I thought that if they changed their position that there was good cause. After all, they are there, in the office, reading, studying, working to improve our state and nation. They campaigned against increasing taxes, but they know better and we really must acquiesce to their wisdom.
Yeah, all of us were naive children once upon a time.
They are at high dollar lunches or dinners or clubs. If they don’t go along with the lobbyists then they don’t get along with their compatriots in the Legislature. If they don’t play well, then they get sent to the back benches where the ideologically pure among their constituency take pride in the fact that there are still one or two good ones at the marble pork pen at 23rd and Lincoln.
Yet we seem surprised when a tee-totaling businessman from a small town is found to have received a DUI after only a year or so in office. Our eyes grow wide at the story that a party leader was found high as a kite with a suspicious white powder on his face. We express sorrow that the pressures of office put such a strain on a marriage that divorce resulted, and then a new relationship with little delay. Despite the continued evidence of changes in the lifestyle of legislators, we are shocked to find a family man was in a hotel with an underage partner. We will suggest that these are hypothetical examples.
Those legislators who find their way onto the front pages in scandal are the failures. The goal is to own them without ruining them. No one thinks they are selling their souls. Indeed, the lobbyists don’t even want to buy souls. Lobbyists simply believe they are doing their jobs.
It’s like the guy in front of an oven at Auschwitz, who tells himself that cremation is a perfectly fine way to deal with dead bodies. Just a job, and nothing wrong with it.
But there is much wrong with it. Instead of working to persuade with logic and honest information they wine, dine and avail other pleasures of the flesh to these men (and to a much lesser degree, women) without significant pressure on specific issues. They peel away at the inhibitions, morals and character of otherwise wonderful people. They expose them to habits that reduce their resistance to other habits.
They will provide information, talking points, on the legislation once they own the vote. Such is not to persuade the legislator, but to persuade us, that he made a decision based on some sort of fact.
Vote buying is a strategic game. Recruit someone with a great community reputation, but not someone who was active in party matters because that person might be on to the game, or simply overly committed to an ideological bent. It’s much easier to influence someone who has little political bias. Mold that new politician by securing that they use the “right” consultant who uses general terms like “conservative,” “life,” and “small government” as well as less partisan terms like “schools” and “neighborhoods.” then fund them in a manner that secures they know they owe their success (and their ability to remain in office) to the lobbyists. Once in office, celebrate them as a more significant persona than they thought themselves to be. So much so that it’s OK to drink to excess, OK to eat expensive foods, OK to rub elbows with those who populate the offices at the tops of the tallest buildings. It might even be OK to rub other parts of other people.
Before long the guy you knew from your home town is a very different person. They look the same, they try to sound the same, but it doesn’t take long to find they are a different, more hollow, being.
Solutions? Sorry, this is not about solutions. This column does not even qualify as a story for two reasons. First, no specifics are cited to avoid a lawsuit. Second, and more importantly, it’s not news to anyone who has observed the process for any period of time.
It is recommended that we all discard our residual childishness and recognize the corruption of the system by which our state is governed.
Richard Engle is the author of the novel, The Last American President. He is also a Past President of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies which is the nation’s largest and oldest Republican support organization. Richard was twice elected to his local city council and twice elected to the Oklahoma delegation to the Republican National Convention including serving on the National Rules Committee in 2000 where he successfully placed a minority report on the floor of the convention – the first, and most recent since Ronald Reagan did the same in 1976. He also served on the 2012 Republican National Committee Standing Committee on Rules in the meeting preceding the Tampa convention.
Richard is President of BellWest America. Richard and Denise, his wife of over 30 years, live in Oklahoma City. Until recently Denise Engle served as Workers’ Compensation Commissioner for the State of Oklahoma and prior to that she was a Deputy Insurance Commissioner in Oklahoma. Richard speaks and writes often on political matters. Richard can be reached at 405.640.9219 or firstname.lastname@example.org