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Six-figure jobs: Lobbying
If making the case for a special interest is your thing, you might want to head for the Hill.
January 27, 2005: 10:41 AM EST
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer
SPECIAL REPORT
Social Security »»

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - There won't just be a lot of arguing among lawmakers over Social Security reform in the coming months.

There will be a lot of lobbying - and a lot of money spent on lobbying -- to influence those lawmakers' arguments.

The debate is likely to prove "a lobbying bonanza," said Steven Weiss, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan, non-profit research group..

Weiss estimates at least tens of millions of dollars will be spent trying to convince lawmakers and the public of the merits -- or demerits -- of any proposed changes to Social Security.

Whatever the number, there's no question pushing for or against legislation in Washington is big business. And lobbyists stand to make a very good living taking part in the wars of persuasion.

A survey conducted by the American League of Lobbyists (ALL) in 1998 the latest information the ALL has -- found that 65 percent of respondents, who mostly held senior-level positions, made over $100,000.

To get a six-figure salary you either need to have a well-known name in politics it's not unheard of for politicians to become lobbyists once they leave office or you need to put in at least five to 10 years working your way up the ladder.

No degree is required. Most lobbyists, however, have at least a college degree and many have graduate degrees, typically in law.

And there is now a two-week course on professional lobbying and political influence offered by the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute at American University.

Lobbyists are hired to help achieve the legislative goals of their clients, which may be an industry association, a union, a corporation or even a foreign, state or local government.

Key among the tasks a lobbyist performs is giving lawmakers credible information about an issue and representing their client's point of view. Since lawmakers are presented with thousands of pieces of legislation, it is unrealistic to expect them to be experts on all of them, said Paul Miller, ALL's president.

While there may be face-to-face meetings with the lawmakers themselves, communications are often with a lawmaker's staff, said Miller, who has his own lobbying firm Miller, Wenhold and currently represents the office furniture industry.

Lobbyists' other tasks include researching an issue extensively, attending congressional and regulatory hearings, and organizing grassroots or letter-writing campaigns.

They also need to be savvy about the role money plays. A lobbyist may advise a client when it might be smart to give to a political candidate or to support a cause championed by a lawmaker.

Lobbyists themselves -- and often their firms -- also may give campaign contributions. Doing so can enhance their clients' standing and also their own, Weiss said.

Hours can be long when Congress is in session. And the job's stresses include not being able to rest easy until the fat lady sings. Something can go wrong at any point and often something is slipped into or taken out of a bill at the last minute that runs counter to the client's interests.

"That can be devastating," Miller said. That's why, he added, " you never feel confident until (a bill) has the president's signature."

One of the best ways to get your foot in the door is to get a job on the Hill, Miller said. Doing so will teach you how the legislative process works and it will help you to build a strong contact list.

That list will be a major key to your success, Miller said. "It's all about relationships and who you know."

It also helps if you believe in what you're promoting. Otherwise, he said, you'll come to hate yourself and you won't be as effective selling others on an idea if they sense you lack conviction.

Not that the field doesn't have some practitioners more interested in the paycheck than good public policy. But the characteristics of a good lobbyist include honesty and integrity, Miller said, since "our word is our bond in this town."

Lobbying is a growing profession as more groups get involved in the political arena to advance their own agendas.

Currently, there are just over 19,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, according to the Legislative Resource Center. But that number only includes lobbyists working at the federal level. If you include those working at the state level, Miller estimated, there might be anywhere from three to five times that number.  Top of page

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