Which group in the workforce is the most reviled, ridiculed, and mistrusted? Doctors? Lawyers? Bankers? Advertisers? Used car salesmen? Members of Congress?
They’re all up there (or is it down there?), but according to a recent Gallup Poll, worst of all are lobbyists.
Lobbyists are widely viewed as the sleaziest of the sleazy smooth-talkers, who are nothing more than amoral or immoral hired guns, paid by an equally sleazy, heartless corporation to advance its self-serving ends. Lobbyists make the rich richer, conventional wisdom suggests, the middle class and poor poorer, our food, water, and medicine less safe, and knows no bounds of decency, never met a client they didn’t like – including the American Nazi Party.
Andy Manatos, a veteran Washington lobbyist – he is President of Manatos and Manatos – and his eldest son, Mike, another veteran lobbyist and senior Vice President – talked to TNH to set the record straight.
The primary reason for the misconception about lobbying and lobbyists, Manatos says, is misinformation. This interview, then, is an insider’s tutorial about one of America’s least understood professions.
A “REAL” LOBBYIST
Manatos begins with one of countless examples about the good he has done as a lobbyist: “A friend of mine who was divorced and had a daughter was told by the IRS that their home, their only financial base other than her salary, was going to be taken from her and sold to pay for her former husband’s cheating on a long complicated tax return that she had innocently also signed years before,” he said. “I called a Senator friend who was the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and told him that this was wrong. This resulted in his appropriately adding to the tax law the ‘innocent spouse’ provision.
“Only a ‘real’ lobbyist could do this,” Manatos said, “not just the thousands of people who must register as lobbyists because the law is so broad.” Aha! There, then, is the first reason for the misperception. There are lobbyists and there are lobbyists. What makes a “real” one, though?
A real lobbyist, Manatos says, “is someone in whom a policymaker has such complete trust that he or she will do what the lobbyist asks with just slight staff examination. Why will the policymaker do this? It is because the policymaker knows that the lobbyist will only ask him or her to do things if they meet the following criteria: 1) the issue has been thoroughly researched, from all sides, and found to be valid; 2) the issue helps accomplish a goal that the policymaker wants to achieve; 3) the issue will impact positively on his or her constituents and the rest of America; and 4) his or her support of the issue will not injure them politically and could be politically helpful to them.
“The first time a lobbyist gives the policymaker an issue that does not meet these criteria is the last time that policymaker will every consider something given by that lobbyist.”
What about the belief that lobbyists hand politicians fat envelopes stuffed with cash, and that’s why they get results? Isn’t it just a matter of money talks? Not quite, says Manatos. Members of Congress and Senators respectively receive 5,000 and 25,000 written communications every week, Manatos says, which surely gives them time to pay attention to only a small fraction of them.
Even if each House Member or Senator read, say two per day – as their staffs estimate – that would mean, over 99% of the letters and emails would go unread, let alone acted upon. Inevitably, Congress members have to pick and choose what issues they address, and Manatos says it is those issues that affect a “significant” number of their constituents. Far from being a scourge on the nation, Manatos contends that “lobbying is crucial to America.”
MONEY ISN’T EVERYTHING
But what about “money talks”? Yes, Manatos says, when it comes to lobbyists who can help raise reelection funds – they certainly will gain the politician’s ear. House Members usually have to raise over $1 million for reelection, and Senators 10 times that amount – a practice which they “loathe,” Manatos says.
Nonetheless, Manatos makes it clear: if the proposal does not meet the four honorable criteria stated above, “I don’t care how much a lobbyist raised for the House Member or Senator, he or she will not move it into law.”
Hardly existing for the sole purpose of making money for big companies at the expense of the public good, the vast majority of lobbyists often do quite the opposite. “Working with a member of the House some years ago,” Manatos says, “I was able to stop the United States from giving export licenses to an American company selling torture thumbscrews to South American dictators. The bureaucrat was focused on keeping the six jobs in Michigan for the thumbscrew manufacture. The Member of the House saw the injustice to the purpose of America. Together, we were able to stop the exports.”
Of course, lobbyists – Manatos included – do make money for companies, but that does not necessarily mean corruption or greed. “Our government’s ‘experts’ refused to allow a U.S. furniture trade show in the Middle East because they knew American furniture wouldn’t sell there,” Manatos said, recalling one such example. “Following the Middle East trade show we forced through lobbying, billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. furniture was sold there.”
A prime example, Manatos says, of the government thinking it knows best. “The Founding Fathers insisted that the very first Amendment to our Constitution had to deal with the average person’s right to press its government to do the right thing, not what the government thinks is the right thing, but what the people feel is the right thing.”
GREEK AND CYPRIOT CAUSES
Manatos & Manatos has spent decades fighting for human rights concerns in Cyprus and other issues of vital concern to the Greek-American community. He cites the example of a 16 year-old boy who was vacationing in Cyprus in July, 1974. A Detroit, MI boy named Andrew Kasapis, who was “taken prisoner from his family along with 1,500 other Greek-Cypriots by the invading Turks,” Manatos describes. “When our government asked Turkey what they had done with Andrew, two other Americans and all the Greek-Cypriot prisoners, Turkey acted very bothered and reduced their cooperation with America on some important matters. For ten years, America’s best and brightest in the State Departments and White Houses of both Democrat and Republican Administrations came to the conclusion that it is best for America that the question about Andrew Kasapis was left unasked.
“Our lobbying effort, the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH – a group of Hellenes who are willing to reach in our pockets and contribute to helping our government avoid terrible errors), got the attention of key Senators and House Members by helping them raise funds to get reelected, by connecting them with their constituents or by talking to my old friends in the Senate and House and educated them on this complicated matter. Once we had got enough Senators and Members of Congress to understand the issue – educating them sufficiently so that they would be able to counter every State Department and foreign policy establishment ‘expert’s’ arguments and all the counter data emanating from the millions of dollars a month Turkish lobbying effort, we introduced and passed legislation forcing America to find out what happened to Andrew.
“Poor 16-year-old Andrew, two other Americans and 1,500 young Greek-Cypriot males were, a day after being taken prisoner, stood next to large trenches dug in the ground and executed,” Manatos continued. “The American government found Andrew’s remains and flew them to Detroit for his family’s burial. That began a process that enabled large numbers of Greek-Cypriots to retrieve the remains of the loved ones and to get some closure on their horrible loss.”
Manatos adds: “our contributing funds to Senators and Members and Manatos & Manatos contributing $500,000 worth of free lobbying for Hellenic and Orthodox matters each year is expensive and trying but it is also rewarding.”
American law clearly stated that any country that uses America foreign military aid aggressively shall have that aid ‘immediately terminated,’ said Manatos, citing another example. “Turkey used that aid to kill over 4,000 Greek-Cypriots in 1974. When I raised the issue with Secretary of State Kissinger’s General Council he said they were not going to cut off the aid. Only with our lobbying, the legislative branch overturning the executive branch on a foreign policy issue for the only time in modern history, was military aid to Turkey cut off.”
In another advancement of Greek issues in American politics, Manatos explains that “America respects the right of 195 countries to determine their own domestic policies, even those with which we may disagree. For this reason, when our officials saw Turkish policies extinguishing the spiritual head of Orthodox Christians around the world, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, they looked the other way. We moved U.S. Presidents, Speakers of the House, and Senate Majority leaders to press Turkey into significant movement in the right direction by getting 90 of the 100 Senators and 291 Members of the House to send a letter to the President pressing for religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate; we became the only nationality group other than the Irish (who constitute 12% of the U.S. population) to meet with every President to discuss this and other issues face-to-face for 26 years; and secured for the Ecumenical Patriarch the rarely- presented Congressional Gold Medal.”
With all these positive examples, why are lobbyists so vilified? “it is because: (1) when i was young Senators and House Members could be bought and many don’t realize it has changed; (2) with Senators and Members voting on the same side of an issue as those who contributed to them, it looks like they are still being bought; (3) Republicans and Democrats get more votes by saying that they know that Members of the other party are bought; and (4) journalists find that ‘lobbyists buy votes’ stories are always popular,” explains Manatos.
“Actually the way it works is 180 degrees from the way it is perceived to work.” “There is no question but that the great majority of the American people would disagree with the “great experts” of our government and agree with the lobbyists on nearly all the issues. And thank God, the Ancient Greeks, and our American Founding Founders realized the crucial importance of citizens having the authority and ability to overturn its governments less than wise decisions.”