Do We Really Need Lobbyists?

May 13, 2009
Lobbying is defined as an attempt to influence the actions of others, to persuade someone or to promote an idea. Maybe when you were young and wanted something from your parents (or to escape something), you did a little “lobbying”? ...

Lobbying is defined as an attempt to influence the actions of others, to persuade someone or to promote an idea. Maybe when you were young and wanted something from your parents (or to escape something), you did a little “lobbying”? We’ve all done it. The National Tooling

Machining Association has been involved in lobbying from the day it was established in 1943. During World War II, tool-and-die makers got together to discuss the problems they were having making materials for the war effort: they kept losing their best workers. A few of them went to Washington and convinced Congress to pass an exemption for anyone with a journeyman’s card. How were they expected to produce the materials needed to defend the country without skilled workers? Well, they succeeded! Lobbying works.

Still, lobbying has a bad reputation. I often hear people say that lobbyists are the root of our country’s problems, and I wonder: Are the lobbyists worse than the elected officials who take lobbyists’ money and vote in line with the lobbyists’ interests? Sure, some lobbyists take advantage of their access to Congress, and some in Congress allow it. But, if organizations or groups want to be heard, they must have people working in their behalf.

Recently, a shop owner explained to me he opposed the NTMA hiring lobbyists because, he reasoned, all of us should be speaking directly with our congressmen. Well, everyone has an opinion. His theory would be ideal if everyone understood everything that is happening, and had the time and resources to reach their representatives, but we know that’s not how things are. If we waited for Congress to act only in response to individuals who contact their elected officials, nothing would be accomplished, and we wouldn’t have a united voice or message.

The NTMA has had some successes and failures in our attempts to get Congress and other Washington officials to hear our story. There are groups with more money and more influence in Washington, with advocates telling their stories. Why shouldn’t the precision custom manufacturing industry be heard, too?

By working together with the proper lobbyist, individuals with common interests are able to present a unified message. They can concentrate their efforts to be more efficient. Yes, it costs money, but the alternative is to risk being ignored, and perhaps buried by higher taxes and more regulations than we have today.

Can we expect elected officials who are mainly lawyers to know anything about our industry? Lobbyists help to keep our message in front of them, and they keep an informed eye on all the legislation introduced. In the first week of this Congressional session over 1,000 new bills were introduced. The NTMA’s representatives had staffers reading through each one to make sure there were no harmful, hidden agendas. Lobbying succeeds when the lobbyist stays active, and the individuals in the group continue to deliver the message in their individual communications with their representatives. It’s not easy, but it works when it is coordinated.

The NTMA has a history of working with other groups to get things done, too. The R&D tax credit was created because a group of associations worked together to explain its importance. We’ve been able to restate some rules and regulations to be less costly than they were when first proposed. When OSHA was being pressured to pass new rules on mist containment, NTMA and others worked for over three years to stop it. Had it passed, every machine using any kind of solvent or coolant would have had to be shut down or retrofitted to meet the new standards — potentially costing millions of dollars.

Recently, the NTMA and Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) formed the “One Voice” coalition to fight the Employee Free Choice Act, the “card check” bill that Big Labor promises will pass this year. Currently the bill is stalled, in spite of millions of Big Labor dollars working to pass it. Big Labor has one of the largest lobbying efforts of all, spending union members’ dues without seeking their opinions — the sort of spending that’s not allowed by trade groups, and that helps to give lobbying a bad reputation.

Perhaps lobbying is unseemly, but it is essential to democracy. And, because everyone has an opinion, everyone deserves to be heard. As long as lobbying remains legal, the industry must speak for itself. No one else will do it for us.

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