Democracy, Divides and (not so) Deep Pockets

Posted in 2011 The Gnovis Blog  |  Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Recently, as I was pillaging my husband’s stack of political magazines, I started flipping through a copy of Roll Call, a publication that has covered the happenings on Capitol Hill since the 1950’s. Nestled on Page A-12, I found an article about YouLobby, a website launching in October that “seeks to help the public hire lobbyists.” When I first saw the headline, I thought the idea sounded like a great means to spread democracy and provide the “little man” with the means to access a piece of the proverbial pie of political power. Interesting.
From the article, I learned that the main idea of YouLobby is to provide a forum for non-profits to aggregate with other non-profits and pool resources to hire K Street lobbyists. The target groups are allegedly non-profits that would not be able to afford a lobbyist on their own. The creators of YouLobby have the vision that a citizen can use the site to “start an advocacy campaign, solicit donations, and hire a professional lobbyist.”

flickr photo by roberthuffstutter

As citizens of the United States, one of the protections guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights is the Right to Petition the Government. While the Right to Petition is certainly not as “hot” of a topic as, say, the Freedom of Speech, it is certainly relevant in any discussion of democracy, as it is the provision that allows citizens try to influence the government to pass laws to redress citizen concerns: Advocacy organizations and Lobbyists, anyone?
Which raises some questions that have been nagging at me off at on for years, especially since I moved to Washington: How did it get to the point where the average citizen needs to have access to deep pockets to be heard by the government? Sure, anyone can write a letter to Congress, but most political folks know that the “work” really gets done among closely knit networks of politicians and lobbyists. Is that really what our forefathers intended when they individual rights and liberties?

flickr photo by Toban Black

And here’s the kicker: the article states that lobbyist fees run from approximately $5,000 to $10,000 per month! One has to wonder how many non-profits could support such types of costs (even when pooled with others), especially knowing that a resolution could take months, or even years. It’s a lot to think about, especially the portion of the article that states that lobbying firms will not be required to provide a phone number to clients they receive through YouLobby. Instead, they will be held “accountable” through a blog on which they regularly post.
As I read on, I started thinking: How much does a site like YouLobby really spread democracy and give a voice to non-profits and other “little men”? After all, the people talking about YouLobby are readers of Roll Call, right? And it follows that these readers would be political elites, educated legislative aides, and people who are already in the political “mix.” In fact, cursory search of Google News over the past month showed that Roll Call the only publication writing about YouLobby.
So who is the real audience here? It looks to me like the organization is really targeting the Congressional networks in Washington with the hopes that Congressmen will take the message about YouLobby back to their constituents or leverage the service themselves through the straw man political organizations that are so common these days. I guess the proof will be in the political pudding when the site launches next month.