the real 10. Choose your own Agendahttp://woodstock.georgetown.edu/publications/report/r-fea72.htm
LOBBYING AND THE SEARCH FOR THE COMMON GOOD
A presentation by Michael McCarthy
"The ethics of lobbying." What is meant by those simple English words? During the last four years when I have told friends and colleagues about this project, they have usually laughed or looked at me quizzically. To many of them, the title of this conference and of the book on which it is based is either an oxymoron or the description of a quixotic task. I begin with this sad observation because four years of commuting between Vassar College and Georgetown have sharply highlighted the contrasting perspectives of insiders and outsiders on the nation's politics. Most of the insiders we interviewed welcomed our attempt to provide practical guidelines for their profession. Most of the outsiders skeptically wondered whether ethical guidelines for the lobbying profession would make any difference. The outsider's distrust is not only of lobbyists, but of the organized interests that hire them, the public officials they seek to influence, and of the fairness and integrity of the political processes by which we are governed.
Images, Old and New. What is lobbying? It is the deliberate attempt to influence public law, policy, and administration through various forms of political advocacy. The right to lobby is constitutionally guaranteed by specific provisions of the First Amendment, provisions that protect freedom of speech and the petitioning of government for redress of grievances. Our goal in this project was never to challenge that constitutional right, but to distinguish carefully between its responsible exercise and the multiple ways it can be abused or distorted. Although lobbying has become a well-established political practice, it has undergone major changes during the last 40 years. In Washington, D.C., lobbying has become a major growth industry. As the scope and reach of the federal government have expanded, so has the number of professional lobbyists and the political sophistication with which they ply their trade. Popular images of well-heeled lobbyists making lucrative deals with corrupt politicians, the infamous quid pro quo, are in most respects out of date. Explicit bribery will always be with us, but that is a crime very few lobbyists presently commit. The sophistication to which I refer involves carefully orchestrated campaigns to set the nation's political agenda, to influence the votes of public officials, and to slant the coverage given their clients or projects by the communications media. Public relations techniques borrowed from advertising and marketing are deliberately used in lobbying campaigns to shape public opinion on critical issues.
Lobbyists also play an important role in electoral politics as candidates increasingly rely on them for fund raising, direct contributions and tactical advice in the electoral contest. The negative image of lobbyists largely derives from three public criticisms: 1) their established connection to money and power; 2) their reliance on manipulative marketing techniques in the courting of public opinion; and 3) the judgment that they are political "hired guns" at the service of the highest bidder. To what extent this disreputable image is deserved is a matter of heated debate.
What is ethics? Although most people strive to be good and to live responsibly, they find it difficult to say what ethics is. There is a parallel with time. Almost all adults can tell time, but even philosophers are perplexed about what time really is. Ethics is a form of practical inquiry about the most important human concerns: about the type of persons we should become, the type of communities we should create, what we should do and avoid doing; the interdependence of rights and obligation, and about which goods are more important and which evils more threatening than others.
American culture has been marked from the beginning by a strong individualism. This individualism is clearly reflected in the way most Americans think about ethics. They are reasonably confident in their judgments about personal ethics, about their obligations and responsibilities as parents, spouses, and friends. They are much less confident in thinking about public ethics, about their obligations as citizens, the public responsibilities of corporations and other organized interests, and institutional injustice and systemic or structural inequities.
Applying the Ethical Scissors. Public ethics, if it is to be practical, if it is to make a significant difference, needs to exhibit a three-part structure. The first part is based on factual knowledge. How do things actually stand, how do they presently work, how do people typically conduct themselves in the field under investigation, in this case lobbying the government? To answer these questions, we interviewed numerous people directly engaged in the lobbying process. We asked for their candid assessments about current practice and the ethical challenges it raised, and we followed these confidential interviews with a series of group discussions among people with opposing views of American lobbying. We supplemented these personal accounts of practitioners with scholarly studies of lobbying and lobbyists by journalists and respected academics. By combining these two sources of knowledge, we tried to meet the ethical requirement of realism, of actually knowing what we were talking about.
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