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Government: The Best And Worst Of Being Lobbied

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When I worked on the Hill way back in the 90's (Feinstein, then Bingaman),  I often (some would say usually) had absolutely no idea what I was doing, substantatively, or procedurally or politically. I was constantly in need of reliable information, provided quickly, tailored to my specific situation, dumbed down to my level.

And so, as you can imagine, my best experiences with lobbyists were the ones who gave me useful information when I needed it, whether or not it was something they were particularly interested in, and got it to me quickly, in a useful form (amendment language, for example, or a one-page fact sheet, or a formula run).

Read on to find out who was best and worst at the lobbying game, according to me, and about a new article that might be worth reading.

Amy Wilkins at the Education Trust was by far the best at this, and may still be. Former CCSSO head Gordon Ambach was a master at quick edits on legislative language, though technically he wasn't their chief lobbyist. Joel Packer at the NEA was quick, too, and remarkably candid. Michael Dannenberg, on Pell and then Kennedy's staff, did some persuasive staff-to-staff lobbying. Former CRS education guru Wayne Riddle -- again, not technically a lobbyist -- informed and occasionally nudged me in smart directions.

My worst experiences were being threatened (thanks, Terry Hartle) and getting out of the blue calls from grad school professors who'd been persuaded to call their wayward former student (thanks, Dick Elmore). Occasionally there were moments of amusement or alarm -- being lobbied by a former employer, for example, or watching someone pull out a checkbook and pen to write a campaign contribution.  

But by far the most common experience I had was of being lobbied ineffectively - being handed gobs of information at the wrong time, being forced to listen to long, heartbreaking stories without being given any legislative solution, being talked to by folks who didn't seem to know what was going on in the building (Hart, in this case).  I'm talking professional government relations people, here, not constitutents. It was pretty sad, and frustrating.

Want to know a little more, just to make sure you're not making any obvious mistakes?  Just ask me.  Or, even better, check out Fawn Johnson's new National Journal article on effective lobbying, Washington’s Oldest Profession (or excerpt here if you're not a subscriber). 

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There is a little insight o be gained here, maybe, if you consider lobbying and being lobbied the natural order of the public service universe. For us outside the influence peddling business, though, it's a little like listening to a hooker rate her johns.

or watching someone pull out a checkbook and pen to write a campaign contribution.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.