Am I the Next Jack Abramoff?
In which I discover that any idiot—even me—can be a Washington lobbyist.
I wandered the office buildings discouraged—it's hard out here for a lobbyist—until I ran into a bunch of well-dressed women with overstuffed tote bags. I asked if they were lobbyists and they told me they were from Women of the Storm, a group of Louisiana residents who were lobbying to get every member of Congress to come to the Gulf Coast and see the devastation. They told me they had a series of appointments lined up with senators or their chiefs of staff, and all they'd had to do to get the appointments was call about a week in advance of their arrival.
With this strategic breakthrough, I went home and started calling. Amazingly, I quickly got appointments with staffers for both senators and my representative. My first stop was Sen. Mikulski's office. A young, energetic legislative aide took me to a conference room, and I pulled out my leave-behind and gave her a puppy. When I started on my spiel she intently took notes. Even more amazingly, she told me this sounded like an excellent cause that would be hard to oppose and that Sen. Mikulski, who started as a grassroots lobbyist herself, loves grassroots causes. I was starting to envision the headline "SNOP Sweeps Senate" when she brought me back to reality. She said I needed to go back out and get national animal organizations and shelters to work with me, and then we should start a letter-writing campaign to members of Congress. It might take me two years to build the momentum to get a bill introduced.
She held up the puppy and said that the men who came in to lobby for prostate cancer also bring stuffed puppies because dogs get prostate cancer.
"Dogs wouldn't get it so often if they were neutered," I said, then added, "I bet that would reduce prostate cancer in men, too. But I don't suppose the senator wants to suggest her constituents get neutered."
"No, that's not something the senator is going to pursue," she agreed.
Rushing to my meeting at Sarbanes' office I almost literally ran into Hillary Clinton, walking regally with an aide trailing behind. I was struck that though she was not interacting with anyone, her mouth was stuck in that pursed-lip smile of hers. I realized she must have to paste that on at all times so no one can say, "Hillary Clinton glared at me." For a moment I thought I should pull a puppy out of my bag and hand it to her, explaining what SNOP was. Then I realized the large man with the earpiece who was following behind was her Secret Service agent, who certainly would have wrestled me to the ground.
At Sarbanes' office I spent 40 minutes with a well-turned-out young male staffer. He reeled off a list of senators with an interest in animal issues, advised me that if I expected my bill to go anywhere I was going to need the backing of the Humane Society of the United States, and suggested I should also lobby the House. "Sometimes it's easier on the House side to get something into a bill," he explained. "Sometimes people are looking for an issue to be a leader on—99 percent of House bills don't go anywhere anyway." That was great advice—why not make my goal to inspire one of those useless bills?
Emboldened, I started calling animal-loving members. I quickly got an appointment with a staffer at the office of Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican and the Humane Society's Legislator of the Year. I had discovered that Ensign was the sponsor of a bill to stop the slaughter of horses that were being sent overseas to be sold as fillets. You would think a bill to prevent French people from eating Mr. Ed would have unanimous support, but the legislation was having difficulties—despite having Bo Derek come to town to lobby for it. When I mentioned this to the staffer, he sighed, "No matter what the issue is, there will be people who will be adamantly opposed."
After I gave him his puppy and explained SNOP's goals, he asked a penetrating question: "Could your bill result in the extinction of dogs and cats?" I assured him it wouldn't, but he had brought up a troublesome point. In doing my research for SNOP I had come across some anti-spay and neuter sites. An argument against mandatory spay/neuter laws was that they can drive the small, careful breeder out of business, sending people who don't want to adopt from shelters to unscrupulous puppy mills. And why should every rescued animal be unable to reproduce? Let a wonderful mutt have wonderful puppies now and then!
I left the office a little shaken. What if SNOP was on the wrong track? One of Jack Abramoff's greatest innovations had been to take on clients with opposing interests. He would then construct lobbying campaigns against each of them—in that way convincing clients to pony up more money to fight their powerful opposition. Maybe I should follow Abramoff's example and become the chief lobbyist for STOP SNOP.
Putting my doubts aside, I called the office of one of the biggest dog lovers on Capitol Hill—Sen. Edward Kennedy. I knew Kennedy was a dog lover because he has a children's book coming out about the adventures of his dog, Splash. (Yes, Ted Kennedy has a dog named Splash.) Mentioning that I had a dog cause immediately got me an appointment. The Kennedy staffer was the youngest yet—he looked barely out of college. I gave him a puppy and explained that I was the president of SNOP, at which point he burst out laughing. Then he recovered and gave me the most encouraging advice to date.