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COLUMN: Though rife with corruption, lobbyists are still necessary

From the soap box

news editor

Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 18:02

Here’s the thing. I’m an absolute political junkie.

Those who know me would say, “Well duh, Lis, we know that.” When I wake up in the morning, one of the first things I do is reach for my smartphone and read The Salt Lake Tribune’s Political Cornflakes, an email sent every weekday to nerds like me around 6 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.

Recently, I was chatting with a co-worker about lobbyists and politicians in general. She absolutely despises lobbyists and thinks they shouldn’t be necessary to our political process. Here’s the thing: I disagree. I probably would have agreed with her until I interned at the Utah Legislature and got to see firsthand what they actually do.

One of the first things you notice when you walk in the doors at the Utah Capitol during the session is the large crowd of men and women in suits milling outside the doors to the House of Representatives chamber. While legislators do not use the big fancy “main” doors most of the time — they are open but guarded during floor time — representatives can walk in and out and mingle with the hoard if they choose. It’s rare, but every lobbyist is hopeful for “just a few minutes” of a legislator’s busy day.

They also hound the poor interns, especially those who work for the leadership of the House and Senate. I knew one intern who hid his Facebook account during the session due to the many friend requests and messages from eager lobbyists.

I should also mention that yes, there are crooked people working in politics. Yes, the lobbyists lavish legislators with way too many freebies including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even I, a lowly intern, ate well during the legislative session. And there’s the gifts — by the way, fellow Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members, did you know the church’s lobbyists give legislators tickets to General Conference every year?

Despite all the corruption and privilege, they are still necessary. Without lobbyists, there would be either an even bigger crowd outside those doors, or there would be no one. We organize into groups or foundations with people who think like we do, who have a similar cause, and then we send someone who actually knows how the political system works and understands enough about the issue so they can convince legislators to sponsor a bill on it.

Most people don’t know that bills have to survive through several committees before even being heard on the floor of the senate or house. If you want to get something passed in the Legislature, you are going to want someone who knows the steps that need to be taken in order to make sure your bill lives long enough to make it to floor time.

“But wait,” you say. “We’re letting the government be controlled by special interest groups.”

Well, yes. However, you will find there are plenty of special interest groups you agree with. If you are LDS, you may have felt relieved to know the church has lobbyists, though the fact that General Conference tickets are easily obtained by political leaders may be an annoying thought when you are in the standby line this April.

From what I’ve observed on Facebook recently, I have plenty of friends who are all for the Sutherland Institute’s petition for traditional marriage, and I have many friends who agree with the Human Rights Campaign’s petition for gay marriage. Guess what? They are also special interest groups.

There is corruption in lobbying, in my opinion, that needs to be taken care of. However, these people are still necessary to getting things done.

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