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Reinventing the lobbyist

Reinventing the lobbyist

Date: January 03, 2019

Author: Ira Paulo Pozon, 2018 AsiaGlobal Fellow

Ira Paulo Pozon, 2018 AsiaGlobal Fellow, addresses the common misconceptions about lobbying and discusses the qualities of an ideal lobbyist. 

We usually see them on American TV shows and movies. The savvy lobbyists representing industry interests speaking to regulators and legislators in an attempt to influence public policy. They speak of vast sums of money legally sent to government officials to sway their positions on certain public issues.

I recall it once highlighted in a classic Eddie Murphy comedy film, “The Distinguished Gentleman” where Murphy played a newly-elected young US Congressman. In one scene, the conversation of lobbying came up, where Murphy’s character would have the option of receiving money from competing lobbyists. At one point this discussion comes up:

“Thomas Jefferson Johnson: Terry, tell me something. With all this money coming in from both sides, how does anything ever get done?

Terry Corrigan: It doesn’t. That’s the genius of the system.”

This is, of course, a comedic exaggeration of what lobbying is all about, though the practice does indeed involve significant sums of money. Through the years, the practice of lobbying has gained a bad reputation, one where it is perceived as some form of legalized bribery.

In a calendar quarter in 2015, the top 10 lobby groups in Washington spent $64 million influencing the Executive and Legislative branches.

Lobbying is not only legal, but a Constitutionally protected right, at least in the US. It is contained in the First Amendment right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.

Lobbying is so much more than a legalized means for funneling money. It is a means to gain or use widespread support on issues and interests to influence decisions. For example, the Tech Lobby represents the needs and interests of technology companies and one issue was trying to lower corporate tax rates. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is an NGO and lobbyist focusing on retiree issues such as healthcare, social security, and age-discrimination.

Effectively, a lobbyist, in my eyes, is an advocate. The lobbyist carries the banner of the issue, sector, industry, or group, and acts as their voice to policymakers. Lobbyists do so much more than what they are perceived of, they gain the sectoral sentiment on a more grassroots level, conduct the research, negotiate with key individuals, and advocate for their causes.

I consider myself a lobbyist of sorts. Not one with access to large sums, but rather one that has the know-how and the network to best advocate for certain changes. For example, in this new digital age, we are faced with breakthrough technological advancements that will surely change so much within the status quo. Consider the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), automation, artificial intelligence (AI) , the gig or sharing economy, and blockchain, to name only a few. Each of these phenomena either has changed or is about to change the way we do things. We now rely on ride-hailing or ride-sharing applications more than ever, for instance, and yet numerous governments and legal jurisdictions have trouble regulating this $100-billion industry.

Consider the more technical aspects, and one can already foresee how difficult it would be for industries to even speak on the same language as the policymakers. One tends to recall the humorous exchanges when a Senate Committee grilled Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg for hours, when clearly there were misunderstandings about how the technology worked in the first place.

Fact of the matter is, as I have been saying for quite a while now, technology is going to hit us faster than ever before, and we are not ready. Governments have difficulty even considering how to regulate blockchain, while labor and employment regulators have yet to fully see how AI will affect the workforce, and how educators and institutions should already be looking on how to provide the youth with the right skills for the age of AI.

That is, with all humility, where I come in. As a lawyer, consultant, and tech advocate, I find myself as the ideal lobbyist, one that acts as advocate, but also one that is a coach or educator of sorts, to help sectors in society, whether private or public. I help clients in understanding and preparing their businesses – whether in financial, education, training, service – in identifying the challenges they will face and the opportunities they can seek, through these technological changes, and assisting them in getting the point across through to the government on the needs and issues of the industry.

That is my version of a lobbyist — an advocate, industry expert, educator, and trumpet, one that gets things done for the benefit of the client, the industry, and society at large.

The author is the Founder and CEO of Caucus, Inc., a multi-industry, multi-disciplinary management consultancy firm. He graduated MBA (De La Salle University), Juris Doctor (Far Eastern University), and LLM in International Commercial Law (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom). He also studied Mandarin Chinese Language and Culture in Fuzhou, China, was a Chevening-HSBC UK Government Scholar, a Confucius Institute Scholar, an alumnus of the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, and a Fellow of the Asia Global Institute – University of Hong Kong. The author may be emailed at iap@caucusinc.com.



This article first appeared in The Manila Times on January 03, 2019.

 The views expressed in the reports featured are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Asia Global Institute’s editorial policy.