Every week, our Anonymous Lobbyist answers your questions about how laws get made and why they probably shouldn’t. If you have a question about the dirty business of doing business in Washington, ask her.
This week: how do know, really know, when the time is right?
So how do you know when its time to start lobbying? What lead you to the profession? What was the magic moment when you said “fuck it, I’m smarter and have much better tits then the competition – its time to capitalize on my comparative advantage?” And does that stem from an undergrad in polisci or history?
Actually, there was no magic moment that led me to lobbying, and I sure as hell didn’t get into it because I realized I was smarter and had better tits than the competition. Well, I do have better ones than most, but that’s not why I got into lobbying. Frankly, I realized pretty early on in college (as is the case with most high school overachievers) that my mental abilities were pretty mediocre when taken out of the small town pond I grew up in. Luckily, lobbying doesn’t necessarily require book smarts — memorization skills, maybe, and ass-kissing skills, but not necessarily a Masters in Political Management.
But, yes, I do have the requisite PoliSci coursework, not that the theories in political science have much (if anything) to do with the sausage-making that is the modern American political process. It’s just another point of reference when lobbying more than anything actually useful, like high school French.
The un-magic moment for me was when I was working on a Congressional staff salary in my (let’s say) mid-twenties, living with roommates, eating Ramen, driving a shitty car and watching the credit card balance tick upwards each month, and classmates of mine from high school and college were buying houses (not around here, but still) and nice cars and eating out and I was still trying to hit shitty receptions most nights to support my burgeoning alcoholism and need for non-noodle food. I was meeting with lobbyists every day with their cute, non-Payless shoes and salon highlights and expensive jewelry and realized that, while my braininess (such as it is) might be a dime a dozen on the Hill with young ‘uns arriving each day willing to slave away for $25K/year, I was definitely as smart as if not smarter than lots of the idiot salesman hack lobbyists trying to meet with me/my boss. So, I got out of the Hill and into this shit. Now I’m the hack, but I’ve got the cute shoes and the salon highlights and I can charge high-end alcohol to my expense account. Professional satisfaction might be a somewhat distant memory, but alcohol helps me to forget I ever had any, anyway.
Do lobbyists tend to be pigeonholed based on their old stomping grounds–e.g. former House staffers tend to work the House, former White House folks tend to bug the exec branch, etc? Or is more open-ended?
Well, some of both. I mean, if you were just some shit assistant speech writer at the WH, you’re not exactly going to have an easy time of it working your non-existent Hill connections, right? And if you were some health care LA in a Dem office for 2 years, you aren’t gonna be able to call Rove’s secretary and get an appointment. So, at least in the initial jump, you’re likely to be doing similar issues in similar arenas to those that you left (with the exception of illegally lobbying your former employer/colleagues during your cooling-off period, obviously). If you want to do more than those specific issues (though specificity is often what makes careers, as so many issues are perennial and nothing ever gets permanently fixed) or to work the Senate in addition to the House or the Hill in addition to the Administration, you’ve got to use your position to get you into those offices and/or to make those connections.
Which is to say, lots of younger/newer lobbyists are very much pigeonholed, and lots of older/more experienced ones have used their time in the business wisely to broaden their base of contacts and thus their asking price and effectiveness.
Who has a better chance for success?? That fresh-faced, exuberant young student who came out of law school 3 years ago or an ex-politician (Katherine Harris, J.D. Hayworth, etc.) who’s been in the public arena?
That’s easy. The fresh-faced young law student has basically zero chance of making real money as a lobbyist straight off the bat. I mean, please. No political experience, no staff experience, straight outta school or some shit legal job that has nothing to do with politics? Suck up the serious paycut, buddy, and get thee a Hill job or go in on the ground floor of some law firm affiliated group that’ll hire you to do more shit legal work and kiss some lobbyist ass once you’re there to get in on those clients. Or you’d better have parents that can make someone hire your ass, which does seem to work for some people (though it’s hard to keep getting a job through Daddy once everyone knows you’re an idiot).
But, Katie has absolutely zero chance of being a lobbyist, either. Firms aren’t looking to hire ex-Republican Congress members at the moment for one, and certainly not one who pissed off everyone in the Republican party in the last 2 years and is batshit crazy. So, you got her beat at least. Good luck!