Earlier this week, AP reporter Glen Johnson acted unprofessionally by essentially heckling Mitt Romney during a press conference when Romney said that he would not be beholden to lobbyists if elected President. Even a bystander called Johnson “rude and ugly”, a moment caught on YouTube. However, the Boston Herald — a paper with a rightward bent — believes that Johnson may have won on the facts while losing on the visuals (via Joe Gandelman at TMV):
Former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney, who has cast himself as a Washington outsider and blasted his opponents’ ties to lobbyists, has more than a dozen federally registered lobbyists raising money for him and several others advising his campaign, records show.
At a Nashua event the day before the New Hampshire primary, Romney said, “I don’t have years and years of favors to repay, lobbyists who have raised all sorts of money for me.”
But at least 13 lobbyists work as so-called bundlers – those responsible for prodding deep-pocketed donors and generating vast sums of money for the candidate – according to records compiled by nonprofit Washington watchdog Public Citizen.
Does this make Johnson look any better? No, but it makes Romney look a little worse. Politicians like to deride lobbyists and claim that they will have no favors to repay when they get to Washington, but it’s hard to make that argument when more than a dozen of them raise funds for the candidate. Regardless of whether they “run” the campaign, these lobbyists have helped fund it, and that makes the anti-lobbyist rhetoric somewhat hypocritical, regardless of the parsing of the word “run”.
It would be refreshing, if politically suicidal, for a candidate to point out what lobbyists do. They represent legitimate interests of people around the country on policies that impact them. Lobbying is not inherently unethical or dishonest. Just like any other profession that exists at the intersection of power and money, enormous opportunities exist for corruption that have to have vigilant oversight to prevent.
Mitt, with his massive self-financing, had the standing to make that point rather than the banal attack on lobbyists in general that left him vulnerable to yet another data point for those who consider him disingenuous. Of all of the candidates, he has relied least on outside financing, which makes him less beholden to special interests in terms of grubby paybacks. Why not say that, rather than making a fairly debunkable claim that he has no ties to lobbyists?
Even better yet, why not say this: “Because of the massive size and intrusive scope of the federal government, it requires a lobbying industry to make sure that everyone’s voice gets heard on the blizzard of legislation and enforcement initiatives that arise in Washington each year. Those lobbyists working for my campaign want to reduce the federal government and shrink that burden. We want a Washington DC that doesn’t require an entire industry of lobbyists, one which the individual voice can reach to the Beltway and effect change. If you want that kind of federal government, one that stops interfering with states, communities, and individuals and focuses on its actual assigned responsibilities, vote for me!”
That would be a winning and honest message.