Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Here's a scary number to ponder: 12,407. That's how many registered lobbyists there are in Washington -- the bulk of whom are paid handsomely to carry water for avaricious corporations.
And that doesn't count the untold number of influence peddlers who do not stoop to register, for they don't consider themselves to be mere lobbyists, even though they are paid extravagant salaries by elite lobbying firms. Rather than lobby, they "advise." These are longtime Washington insiders who act as sherpas, guiding corporate favor-seekers through the labyrinth of congressional backrooms and executive-branch offices to reach the peaks of legislative and regulatory power.
Today's lobbying corps, you see, is no longer the domain of common hustlers, but of credentialed and well-connected professionals, including more than 400 former US Senators and House members, plus more than 5,000 former legislative staffers -- all cashing in on the connections and insider knowledge they gained at taxpayer expense. Lobbying is now a $3.3 billion-a-year influence industry -- an unelected, private government of, by, and for special interests. And get this -- it even has its own lobbying group, the American League of Lobbyists, which lobbies for lobbyists!
As you might imagine, having such a powerful presence has given many within LobbyWorld an elevated sense of their own worthiness, so they now want to drop the tacky label of "lobbyist." Instead, the League of Lobbyists is asking its members to suggest a more prestigious (and less pejorative) brand name. Reportedly, an early favorite is "Government Relations Professional." But that's too ponderous. I think any new phrase needs to spell out a zippy acronym -- like SLICK, CREEP, or LEECH -- that really defines their work.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, a lobbyist, by any other name, would smell the same.
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Photo: Flickr user Images Money, creative commons licensed.