No apologies, no regrets for career as a lobbyist

Recent developments at the state Capitol have put an intense focus on the role that lobbyists play in the legislative process. Unfortunately, much of the commentary has tended to paint all lobbyists with the same broad brush, implying that our influence on the outcome of legislative matters generally rests on conduct that is less than honorable.

As someone who has devoted more than 20 years to the lobbying profession, I resent the idea that the work that my colleagues and I do is part of a “cycle of abuse and corruption.”

I am a lobbyist without apology and without regret. What I bring to the legislative process is a particular set of skills and a body of knowledge that improves the process of determining public policy.

As a lobbyist I provide information that ensures that legislators’ decisions are well informed and that all sides of an issue are on the table.

As a lobbyist I come armed with facts that would otherwise not be readily available to Georgia’s 236 citizen legislators, whose representation is part time and who have access to very little staff to research the hundreds of issues that they must address each year.

My colleagues and I possess the skills to present ideas and propose solutions in a very hectic, unpredictable and sometimes volatile atmosphere.

Professional lobbyists deal honestly; to do otherwise can result in a short-lived career.

Isolated and inexcusable ethical lapses by a few are not representative of the vast majority of elected officials and lobbyists who respect, if not revere, the legislative process and who consistently operate ethically and value and guard carefully their reputations.

To suggest that the bad behavior of a few creates a “culture” of bad behavior does injustice to the elected officials, lobbyists and other government affairs professionals and creates an unnecessary distraction from the many important issues that face our state.

Should there be reforms that place restrictions on activities such as gift-giving by lobbyists? Probably so — and they should be tough. But they should not deprive anyone of access to elected officials who need the information necessary to form their opinions on an issue.

In any walk of life, there always will be those who will disappoint. But in my 20-plus years of legislative work, the members of the General Assembly and the lobbyists that I have been privileged to work with adhere to high ethical standards and genuinely want to make a positive difference for the people and the interests they represent.

If there are specific allegations of illegal or otherwise improper behavior against specific individuals in the public policy arena, I say call them out and put the facts on the table. But don’t indict an entire profession on the basis of the actions of a few.

Steve McWilliams is executive vice president of the Georgia Forestry Association.