By Annie Hayes
During our morning academic session on Tuesday, we heard from Meredith McGehee, who currently works as the Chief of Policy, Programs, and Strategy at Issue One. Her lecture was focused more on her experience as a lobbyist on the Hill, and how she navigated the partisan climate of Congress to get legislation passed that aligned with her interests. One typical argument made against lobbyist’s and member’s of Congress is that those with money are the ones with the most access and influence. Given this, McGehee claims that there is no incentive for everyday American’s to play into the game of political influence since monetarily the cards are already stacked against them. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have other avenues to have their voices heard.
We have had the opportunity throughout our time here in D.C. to meet with alumni who are working in different sectors of the federal government, including lobbyists. In addition to McGehee on Tuesday, the group met with Paul Doucette of Battelle, and Matt Thornblad of United Technologies, who are both registered lobbyists and Drake alumni. Given the negative connotation that comes with the label “lobbyist”, I was surprised to learn about what really goes into their line of work, and how important they are in our democracy. Lobbyists are not only on the Hill to exercise their influence(money) to get what they want, but they are also there to help inform members of Congress and their staffs about the particular cause, and help them better understand what they are working on.
While there is no doubt that a lot of money is involved with these interactions, Doucette and Thornblad argue that members of Congress are still very responsive to their constituents, due to the access to social media and other communication technologies. There are easier ways to communicate to congressional members, which holds them more accountable to their district or state. In the interest of reelection, members will pay attention to any backlash of what they are doing in Congress, while they are receiving contributions from internet groups wanting to influence them.
Many voters love to complain about the dysfunction in government and politics, but they hardly ever go out and do something about it, even if it’s just going to vote. I think this past election cycle has shown just how important voter turnout out is among the electorate, and also how more money being spent by one candidate does not always ensure victory on Election Day. So while the presence of lobbyists and monetary influence on Capitol Hill is very unpopular, it is an aspect of our poltitcal system that will be around for a very long time.
I have come away with a greater understanding of the role of lobbyists and their important role in our democracy, but that doesn’t mean that everyday people do not have a say in what goes on in their government. Social media has given everyone an avenue to contact our elected officials which increases their accountability to their constituents. In the end the most powerful voice for anyone in the United States is our vote. I think we have taken this for granted, along with the significance of elected official’s goal of reelection.