Yesterday, NAM President John Engler went down to the Senate to testify before the Government Affairs Committee on lobbying reform. “How big is the problem we’re trying to fix?”, he asked. Fair question.
Fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to three separate felony offenses: conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion. Rep. Randy Cunningham pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery, fraud, and tax evasion. These two weren’t dancing on the edge of the law, they were so far beyond it that it was, well, illegal. For this they were caught and will be punished. Advantage the rules. Abramoff’s antics especially — rightfully condemned by every law-abiding citizen (including lobbyists) — caused a feeding frenzy and triggered the quadrennial lobbyist reform Olympiad in which we now find ourselves. Having caught one guy going 100 m.p.h., they have now decided to lower the speed limit for everyone to 35.
The NAM is a lobbying and advocacy organization. Some 30+ of our Washington-based staff are registered lobbyists (Full Disclosure: this number includes the blogger-in-chief). Here’s what we do: We go to Capitol Hill dozens of times every week, meet with Members of Congress and their staffs — Republicans and Democrats alike — and explain to them how what they’re doing or not doing will impact American manufacturing. For our sins, twice a year we fill out dense lobbying disclosure forms and file them with appropriate Congressional authorities. We fully comply with the sometimes confounding ethics rules of the House and the Senate. (Click on the links to see them for yourself and you’ll see what we mean by “confounding.”) We don’t have a PAC, only the most engaged and active members in the country. They’re our backbone.
What has attracted the interest of many reporters and commentators are our Congressional Staff Tours. Gasp! We pay for Congressional travel. Isn’t that what got Abramoff into the soup? Not exactly.
Every year, we conduct a number of Congressional Staff Tours — 7 in 2004, 8 in 2005 — taking a combined total of 80 and 83 staffers, respectively (again — Republicans and Democrats alike). They occur in all the garden spots where you find manufacturing: Cleveland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Cincinnati, New Jersey, among other places. Some 40-50 NAM member companies — large and small — have chipped in to foot the bill for these tours.There is no golfing involved. And, as anyone who’s been to both can attest, Cleveland is hardly St. Andrew’s. A copy of the agenda of two such tours is appended to Gov. Engler’s testimony from yesterday. See for yourself. These are all business, with staff being schlepped from plant to plant, to watch stuff being made, to see the manufacturing process (to see some very cool innovation along the way) and to talk to plant mangers and employees. To a person these have been a huge hit. For most, it is the only time they have ever been on a shop floor. Nothing like hearing about health care or energy costs directly from the folks who have to pay it. More important, every one of these trips has received the written blessing — in advance — of the House and Senate ethics offices.
While we wish we could regale you with tales of sunny climes, palm trees, endless beaches and verdant golf courses, the truth is not as glamorous. We’ll write more on this topic in this space tomorrow, addressing some of the so-called “solutions” that are being bandied about — some of which would ban staff travel like this. In the process, they will throw out the law-abiding babies with the illegal bathwater, a classic case of over-reaction. We lobby for manufacturing in this country. A lobbyist’s job is to educate. We will continue to do everything in our power — and within the law — to make sure every member of Congress understands and appreciates manufacturing’s contribution to the great prosperity we all enjoy, and the challenges we face every day.
And — until somebody changes the law — if that means we have to take ’em to Cleveland to do it, that’s exactly what we’ll do.
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