There is an interesting article in The State newspaper today about lobbying activity in and around the SC State House. I know the sizes of the paper and its readership keep shrinking and that, on a Football Game Day, Tennessee Volunteers swarming into Columbia, there is not a whole lot of interest in lobbying unless it is for or against Coach Muschamp or one of his quarterbacks, so I’m going to do one of the things lobbyists do. I’m going to provide a quick summary of the pertinent facts. I believe such activities fall under the heading of “research” as described in the article. This is important in understanding some of the strange things that go on at the SC State House.
Total SC State House lobbyist compensation – $9.3M this year
Number of lobbyists – Dozens
Highest Income Lobbyist in 2016 – Richard F. Davis of Capitol Consultants ($773,686)
Reporting Required – Twice per year to the SC Ethics Commission
Principal – Name given to organizations that hire lobbyists (1198 of them. Here is list.)
Biggest Principal – AT&T Services ($154,000)
Infamous “Koch Brothers” Spending in SC – $77,000 in 2016 (to defeat a gas tax increase)
Lobbyists Three Top Responsibilities – Researching, Advocating, Informing
Thinking of those three responsibilities, I believe I could have been a lobbyist.
I love digging out data and presenting it in a way that gets at the fundamental, underlying truth about long term trends of important variables. However, I suspect that approach might not always serve the needs of a Principal hiring me. I suspect there might be some emphasis in finding and presenting data that supports and benefits the interests of the Principal. I could do that but wouldn’t find it particularly satisfying.
I could handle the advocating part since a large part of my career at Eastman Chemical was coming up with ideas and proposals and then advocating them to management and co-workers. I wasn’t always right and wasn’t always successful, but it was something I could do and enjoyed doing. I must admit that, in those cases, I usually presented data that supported my positions and did not present data that undermined them. Somebody else was usually presenting that data. Intra-company lobbying, I suppose.
I would have to keep my Principal(s) well informed about the positions of the legislators I was lobbying in case a Principal wanted to do some aggressive politicking in favor of or against him or her in the next election. Because of that, I might be perceived by my “good friends” in the House or Senate to be somewhat powerful and threatening, a person whose opinion could launch a series of Robo-Calls for or against them in their home districts. So, I believe that, as a lobbyist, I would have to be comfortable with having some power over other folks and the ability to threaten or enhance their futures in politics. That would be more difficult but I suppose I could handle it so long as I was comfortable with validity of the data I had been paid to research and the positions I was being paid to advocate.
Lobbyists vs. Legislators
Given the system we have, lobbyists seem to be an essential part of the political process, working closely with the legislators and knowing them well. Legislators don’t have big staffs to research issues and develop positions and, at least some, depend on the lobbyists to fulfill those functions. It seems that the problem might be that there are lobbyists for all the big companies, for the major issues, for the municipalities, for the non-profits, for almost everybody except the State of South Carolina. And of course the job of the Senators and Representatives: is to make the best decisions for The State of South Carolina rather than for constituent groups or companies or even towns.
The SC Ethics Commission publishes a list of all registered lobbyist-principal relationships. Many principals have more than one lobbyist and many lobbyists represent more than one principal. I looked at the list of principals and found dozens that begin with “South Carolina,” but none named “South Carolina, State of” or anything similar. Maybe that is what the Governor is supposed to do, lobby for South Carolina.
I did find one Principal with an appealing title, “South Carolinians for Responsible Government.” It has three lobbyists, Robert Adams, Harry Cato, and Tony Denny. Mr. Adams represents 28 principals, including Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, Mr. Cato, 10, including Advance America Cash Advance Centers, and Mr. Denny, 18, including Duke Energy of the Carolinas. The Ethics Commission even reports how much each principal is paid by South Carolinians for Responsible Government. Here are the totals for January through May of 2016. $20,000 to Mr. Denny, $12,500 to Mr. Cato, and $9,000 to Mr. Davis.
I Googled “South Carolinians for Responsible Government,” liking the title and thinking I might want to join up. Well, it looks like their total emphasis is not on responsible government at all but on “school choice,” one of those hot button political issues around the country. Of course I am for “school choice” depending on the details, but, as usual, the devil is in the details.
I guess I will have to keep looking. And, I’m glad I was not a State House lobbyist, bogged down in the so-called “sausage making process,” in my working years. It appears to be a mess.