Monday, February 05, 2007

When Lobbyists Attack

The people must have something good to read on a Sunday.

- The Clash

We’re about at the halfway mark of this years’ Virginia General Assembly Session (46 days total). I’ve been busy pushing legislation that my clients would like to see enacted, and derailing those bills that my clients would not like to see become law. That’s what I do in January and February and sometimes March – I lobby.
That’s me at left.

Or at least you would think so judging from the frantic scribblings of our local “political correspondent,” one Jeff E. Schapiro. Jeff doesn’t like lobbyists, or politicians. Jeff thinks everyone is a crook or on the take. Jeff is desperate – desperate – to catch someone selling their vote or pimping their influence.

I say “desperate” because, in spite of all his bombast, he still can’t find anybody doing anything untoward. This is frustrating for Jeff. He just knows that Virginia legislators are selling their votes, but he still can’t land that big story that will put him on journalisms’ map! Maybe a side photo of the Speaker doing the perp walk would get the New York Times’ attention! Maybe they’d call and Jeff could live his dream of being a big time journalist ferreting out injustice and knavery in Washington, D.C.! Instead, fate has deemed that Jeff write a column about local politics for a third-rate rag that gets read for only 6 weeks a year in January and February and sometimes March. And to also get it wrong about 90% of the time.

But Jeff will take what he can get, and so we have yesterday’s bit of hard-hitting Geraldo-style “journalism” with the gripping title “Literally in Bed with Legislators.” (Ooooo, sexy!)

WARNING: Not recommended for the metaphoraphobic.

Ryan McDougle doesn't always do his part-time job. That way, his wife, Bea, can do her full-time job.

Ryan is a Republican senator from Hanover County with designs for attorney general and beyond. Bea is a lobbyist for muscular corporations.

Ryan McDougle isn't the only lawmaker literally in bed with a big-business lobbyist. Del. Wat Abbitt's wife, Madeline, also is a hired gun.

Mesdames McDougle and Abbitt have the good fortune of representing monied interests before a legislature swayed by fat contributions.

That's where the similarities end.

(And that's where the column should have ended, too.)

As a delegate and senator, McDougle -- nervous about a perceived conflict -- has abstained on sizzlers in which his wife is front and center: cable competition, payday lending, a smoking ban, telecom taxes and oversight.

McDougle, expecting to duck votes on gambling and possibly trucking and hospital bills, cites legislative language suggesting Mrs. M. has an "immediate and personal interest."

In other words, voters in a heavily suburban, safely GOP district are voiceless on issues of the pocketbook while McDougle's wife lines hers and he partakes, indirectly, of its six-figure bounty.

Bea McDougle or her firm billed $277,216 for her nine clients last year, including Verizon, the Virginia Association of Realtors, the American Trucking Association and Medco.

Abbitt, an Appomattox independent, can't recall not voting on an issue on which his wife lobbies. He votes on her bills if they apply to an industry in general rather than her clients in particular.

The McDougles and Abbitts are the only legislator-lobbyist married couples in a town where ethics laws are porous, largely freeing legislators and lobbyists to police themselves.

Whew! I need to catch my breath here. So much evil! And right under my nose, too!

Let's review: Senator recuses himself from voting on "sizzlers"(?) if there might be an appearence of conflict. This is how it should be. BUT, according to Jeff, this means that his constituents are "voiceless" and that the Senator is not doing his part-time job full-time! And there are pocketbooks involved! Scandlous! And check out the big issues! Payday lending! (Jeff, you've got to know that payday lending isn't an issue for the well-heeled in Sen. McDougle's district. Don't be a such a putz.) And look at the money his wife or her firm billed her nine clients last year! Why that's $30,801.78 apiece! For a years' work! Why, I'm flabbergasted!

And those Abbitts!!! Del. Abbitt votes on bills affecting an industry, meaning he's voting on HER BILLS whether or not she likes it! The Brute!

My guess here is that Jeff either doesn't understand the political process, or he is taking liberties. I think the latter. Ms. Abbitt herself doesn't have any bills before the legislature, Senators and Delegates do. All we lobbyists do is try to get those legislators to understand what the bill does and convince them to either support it or oppose it. Sometimes they listen to us, other times they don't. If Jeff thinks that he's on to something, I expect that he would have produced some sort of data showing the Del. Abbitt voted in a manner favorable to his wife's clients in excess of 50% of the time. You see anything like that in there? Me neither. It's all about inuendo. Or it could be that Jeff hates women.

Let's get back to Jeff's world, shall we?

The chumminess -- the incestuousness? -- that breeds this discomfiting tradition is not confined to Virginia. (Jeff: Look up big words before attempting to use them. They are husband and wife, not brother and sister. Also, I'm not entirelu sure that "chumminess" is a real word, and in any event it would be unlikely that such "chumminess" would breed gerunds.)

Connecticut, where a corrupt governor went to jail in 2005, allows spouses to lobby their husbands and wives in the legislature. But in South Carolina, where nearly 30 lawmakers were indicted in 1991 for bribery, spouses of legislators cannot lobby anyone while their husbands and wives are in office.

Hold it!!!! Connecticut threw its corrupt governor in jail. Connecticut allows husbands and wives to lobby the legislature. Are the two things related? Uh uh, Jeff. And what about them S.C. lawmakers indicted for taking bribes? That was an FBI sting operation, Jeff. It wasn't a husband bribing his wife with jewerly. Where's "the chumminess," Jeff?

Post-Tom DeLay D.C. is catching on. (Obligatory reference to DeLay? Check!) The U.S. Senate passed an ethics overhaul that would ban lobbying by spouses of sitting members of Congress.


In Richmond, the intersection of matrimony, money, politics and policy is as perilous as the one at Belvidere and Leigh streets.

Somewhere, Mencken weeps.
Other legislators and lobbyists say the McDougles and Abbitts are handled
for fear that what's said to one spouse is relayed to another, compromising strategy, disrupting an alliance or jeopardizing a bill. When Madeline Abbitt, a Democrat, meets with health-care lobbyists, the atmosphere shifts from cordial to cordial but guarded, some of them say.

That's news to her, says Mrs. Abbitt, who collected $77,436 in 2006 from such clients as Barr Labs,AT&T, the Generic Pharmaceutical Association and Medquest Associates.

Ok, Jeff. You got me on this one. Madeline is lying. Every lobbyist knows that "cordial but gurded" is the name of the game whenever you are conversing with other lobbyists, because log rolling and backstabbing is also part of the game. It's no big deal, though, because tomorrow the tables may turn and I'll need you on my side. It's Politics 101.

Bea McDougle won't discuss her work. "I just don't talk to the
" she said, ducking into an elevator.

Them McDougal's sure do enjoy "ducking" don't they? The family that ducks together....


Cluebat Alert: Jeff. Why do you think it is that Bea McDougal didn't want to talk with you? Think, Jeff. Nobody wants to talk with you, Jeff. You're a hack and no matter what anyone says you'll print whatever you like. No one trusts you, Jeff. It goes back to your mother. That's why you hate women.

And by the way, if you think I didn't notice your choice of addressing the women in your article as "Mrs." rather than "Ms." you're mistaken. Too cute to be very effective, Jeff, but I'm sure that somewhere your journalism professor is smiling.

Now where were we? Oh yes, Ms. Duck making good her escape.

She is visible, tireless, accessible -- to lawmakers. The Republican will dash to a Broad Street doughnut shop with Democratic party boys for late-night munchies and political jawboning.

Translation: Not only is this rather attractive woman avoiding me, she's "accessible" to others! Even Democratic PARTY BOYS! Jawboning! Late at night! With the munchies! In a doughnut shop! Oh, has she at last not one shred of decency!

Then, it's back to the cozy confines of the Capitol, where she, Madeline Abbitt -- and their hubbies -- ply separate but overlapping trades.

(Cue the pimps & ho's music!)

There's no law against it. There's also no law against tacky.

Well, Jeff. You've prove that last point pretty well by this article. And I'm sure that now whole threes of lobbyists will beat a path to your door just dying for a chance to be interviewed by such a journalistic giant.

But not me, Jeff. I'm with the ducks.