Who Loves Lobbyists?

Well, no one does, but at least here they can run for political office



Illustration by Peter Noonan

The lobby profession is generally where politicians go to retire, but not in New Hampshire. Journalists love lobbyists because without them and lawyers we would be at the bottom of professions people say they least respect. So maybe lobbyists are not lovable, but a good lobbyist understands politics and policy and has good relationships with lawmakers, businesses and interest groups.

Still, for politicians, lobbying comes with an implicit trade-off. You get paid a lot to be called slime and to never dream of running for office ever again. It's part of the Washington, DC, culture, where lobbyists are often former members of Congress - like the Granite State's own Republican Bill Zeliff or Democrat Paul Hodes.

While the assumed "rule" that lobbyists cannot run for office is honored in most state capitals, here it is hardly true. In Concord some of the top lobbyists are former state Senate presidents, Congressional candidates or former attorneys general who may or may not continue to hold political ambitions.

In a recent debate among the Republican candidates for governor sponsored by WMUR-TV and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript candidate Ovide Lamontagne made his first-ever attack in the campaign by calling his opponent, Kevin Smith, a lobbyist. Smith, a registered lobbyist for social conservative causes, fired back, pointing out that Lamontagne had been a registered lobbyist himself until a few years ago and his clients included "Big Tobacco."

"We are a small state requiring everyone in the political community to pitch in."

It was almost the same back and forth that happened two years between two Democratic candidates for Congress. In the most prominent debate that year, Annie McLane Kuster and Katrina Swett each bickered about their opponent's past as registered lobbyists. Kuster won that primary and is back for another try this year. Republican Rich Ashooh, a lobbyist for the defense contractor BAE, also ran in 2010 and his profession was not much of an issue.

The fact that lobbyists are basically "allowed" to run for office in the Granite State says a lot about the state's political infrastructure. We are a small state requiring everyone in the political community to pitch in. Statehouse and Senate members only make a $100 a year and have just a staffer to help out. That staffer is usually right out of college. Almost no one has expertise in Concord except lobbyists and, while they are practically the only ones making a living at politics, they aren't getting rich.

New Hampshire is a state that doesn't tax everything and doesn't have much money to spend on anything so what few lobbyists are here aren't exactly overwhelmed with clients either.

While being a lobbyist isn't a giant scarlet letter in NH, it's different in other states dominated by certain industries. In Michigan a number of politicians have ties to the auto industry. In Nevada a number of US Senators and Congressmen have direct ties to the gambling industry.

Unlike those states, New Hampshire's trademark is our frugalness and our clean politics. And if a lobbyist or two gets elected in the process, then, oh well.

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