“What would happen if an average citizen, a complete unknown, were to contact the office of every U.S. senator and ask for a meeting to discuss a certain Senate bill of interest? And then what would happen if that same unknown were to register as a federal lobbyist, contact each Senate office again, and request a meeting to discuss the same bill?”
Last April, Brodbeck contacted each of the 100 senators’ offices, seeking a meeting to discuss then-pending health care legislation as an everyday American. A month later, he contacted each office again -- this time as a registered federal lobbyist. All other variables remained unchanged.
Brodbeck the lobbyist got a meeting nearly four times as often as Brodbeck the concerned citizen. Nearly two out of three requests in his lobbyist guise were granted, while only a bit more than one in four offices agreed to see Brodbeck the non-lobbyist. That’s not all: Lobbyist Brodbeck was usually granted meetings with higher-level Senate staffers than Citizen Brodbeck.
Lobbyist Brodbeck secured 25 meetings with staff members and two with senators themselves; Citizen Brodbeck got just seven staff meetings. No senator agreed to meet with the private citizen to discuss the massive health care overhaul. There was no discernible difference between Democratic and Republican Senate offices in terms of how they responded. Newer senators, and those up for re-election soon, were more likely to meet with private citizens. Veteran senators were more likely to ignore citizen requests.
This shouldn’t be too shocking, and it’s not necessarily damning. Lobbyists are not inherently bad guys -- many represent nonprofit groups, notable causes, and interests of concern to many individuals. (In this study, however, Brodback secured permission to use the name of a real company as his client, and it was made clear that he was representing a business interest.) Plus, lobbyists often have concrete proposals to discuss, rather than just offering their sense of legislation.
Senators also do not have time to meet directly with everyone who wants to drop by, nor do their staff members. In theory, that’s what the House of Representatives was set up for, but that’s less and less possible now, with each House member representing 700,000 people, or about 25 times as many as when the Constitution was drafted.
Some have proposed significantly expanding the size of the House to meet just this need. Though the notion of a Congress of a thousand representatives or more may make government-bashers queasy, it would make each one more attentive to citizens. Others say social media and other new technologies will solve the problem, by making it easier for legislators to communicate directly with citizens.
For now, though, if you want to be heard by your senator, you’d better hire a lobbyist.