There has been a lot of disgust manifested lately with regard to lobbyists on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Bryan Gray offers a “contrarian view” in this Davis Clipper article.
While admitting that “lobbyists have a “dark side”,” he argues that they perform a valuable function in helping to inform legislators so that legislators can make more balanced judgments. He calls this “a necessary role.” Gray says, “A citizen legislature needs information before making decisions; without the information, we’d really be in trouble.”
Of course, people have a right to engage in discussions with legislators about legislation or regulation that might impact their interests. I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue is whether it is appropriate for gifts to be involved.
If I am a lawmaker (or any kind of elected official, for that matter), is it appropriate for me to allow someone to buy me dinner, sports tickets, or a vacation in order to have a discussion with me? Is it appropriate to have them instead buy my child an iPod, get them tickets to a rock concert, or arrange for them to get a scholarship? Is it appropriate for me to get them to donate to my wife’s favorite charity? Is it appropriate for me to, in effect, charge people for access to my time?
Part of the job of being an elected representative of the citizens is availing oneself of the information necessary to make the best decisions. Each elected official’s time is limited, as are his/her capacities. They can only make themselves available to so many people and can only take in so much information. They must necessarily pick and choose. But does that mean that it is acceptable for them to accept favors to execute this part of their job?
I do not question whether people should be able to access elected officials in order to protect their interests. I question whether it is good or proper for these kinds of interactions to involve favors of any kind.