Our chapter on interest groups discusses the role of lobbyists. At The New York Times, Eric Lichtblau writes of their reaction to bad publicity for their profession:
Remaking the image of an industry as battered as that of Washington lobbying might seem like a fool’s quest for even the most battle-tested public relations person. And it may be difficult to dredge up much sympathy for an industry that earned $3.3 billion last year for helping oil companies, drug makers, Wall Street firms and others get access to Washington’s elite.
But in a series of steps including pro bono work, ethics training and tightened disclosure requirements, some of Washington’s leading lobbyists are mounting a concerted push to earn, if not respectability, then at least something less than public disdain.
A growing number say they can no longer afford to see their reputations slip even further. Lobbying groups are proposing more ethics restrictions on themselves. They are meeting with “good government” groups that they once shunned. And they are promoting civic-minded work they are doing free — in contrast to the typical image of corporate giants paying millions for the lobbyists’ influence.
The lobbying shop of Holland & Knight, for instance, announced this month that it is doing pro bono work for a decidedly more sympathetic client: a group of slave descendants who are lobbying for the return of more than 2,600 acres of land in Harris Neck, Ga., that they say the government seized improperly from their families during World War II.
Nicholas Allard, a lobbyist at Patton Boggs in Washington who worked on the bar association’s review of lobbying rules, said the Abramoff scandal showed the need for bringing greater internal accountability and ethics to lobbying.
“No matter what rules are adopted and enforced, the integrity of the system fundamentally depends on the honesty of government officials and the professional advocates and lobbyists,” he said. “Snakes and worms are going to slither and wiggle, whether it’s in an open field or a thicket of regulations.”