Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Hey Big Daddy,
I’m an  Assembly staffer, and I swear there’s a lobbyist working to kill her own bill. Am I paranoid, or does this actually happen?
-Befuddled in B&P

Hey Befuddled,

Killing your own is a time-honored political tradition, but its origins are downright Darwinian. Lobbyists are not the only animals that eat their own. Not by a long shot.

According to one behavioral study, the reasons for this type of behavior are manifold.

“To gain food; to gain increased access to physical resources like nesting sites or space; to avoid caring for unrelated offspring. Infanticide may also be due to aggression or to disturbances in the physical or social environment. For example, when female voles, mink and other mammals are in a state of psychological stress, they may eat their young.”

Sound familiar? Have you ever seen a lobbyist around deadline time? If not, hang out outside the chambers in a week or two, and get back to me.

It’ll all be there: scurrying for food, sex, examples of bad parenting and psychological stress. It’s like the author of the study was channeling lobbyists around the time of sine die.

Now, often, lobbyists are encouraged to introduce bills that they know aren’t going anywhere. Many times, a bill is put across just to appease a client – the political equivalent of busy work. If a lobbyist is good enough, he or she can massage a bill through a policy committee or two, through Approps, if applicable, and hey, maybe even off the Assembly floor.

Have you seen some of the stuff the Assembly has passed over the last two years? I’m pretty sure that if I put Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto into bill form, with a Democratic author in the Assembly, it wouldn’t die until it came up in Senate G.O.

Keep in mind that many contract lobbyists work for clients they don’t particularly like or respect. So, when a client insists that a certain piece of legislation be introduced, sometimes an advocate is forced to put the bill across.

So when, for example, they require their lobbyist to push a bill that mandates that all kitty cats have the right to coconut-scented shampoo, or whatever kind of nonsense gets introduced these days, sometimes they’ve just gotta buck up and do the deed.
But killing your own bill is a true art form. On the one hand, a lobbyist doesn’t want a client to think they’re ineffective. But if the lobbyist wages a protest before he or she is forced to introduce the bill, the measure’s ultimate demise comes with a healthy batch of ‘I told you so’ for the client.

So, a client’s stupid idea may be one reason to ensure the demise of your own bill. But there’s another simpler, more old-fashioned motivation: By killing your own bill, you ensure that your services will continue to be required. And that means more billable hours.
There is an old adage in the lobbying world. “If there is money in a solution, there’s more money in prolonging the solution.”
If a client was paying me big bucks to get a bill passed, why exactly, would I ensure my own demise by doing my job, and rendering my services unnecessary? We have a lobbying system, therefore, that often rewards incompetence — or at least, a very different, more sinister type of competence that doesn’t involve a client’s best interests.

But it’s not just lobbyists that do this sort of thing. Back when legislators actually had relationships with each other, a conservative lawmaker could get a liberal to introduce a bill just so the conservative could rile up his constituents and “lead the charge to kill this very real, and very threatening proposal.” That was the kind of thing lawmakers did for one another.

In reality, the bill had about as much chance as a penniless farmer in a Tulare whorehouse, but nobody needs to know that. All the good people of California see is their legislator fighting hard to protect them against the most egregious political offenses.
That’s democracy in action.

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