I’ve had an uneasy feeling since early November, when Joel Robideaux confirmed that The Picard Group would lead his transition into the halls of Lafayette Consolidated Government. I’ve been wondering what it is about us as citizens that we find nothing unusual about our freshly minted mayor-president appointing a lobbying firm to coordinate the start-up, staffing and priorities of his incoming administration.
But there is much more to consider than an absence of fee for service. So, you say, what’s the big deal about that? Well, lobbyists — with exceptions — are paid professionals typically hired by corporations and other well-heeled interest groups to exert influence upon government that benefits the interests of their clients, much too often to the exclusion of the public interest.
The net impact of lobbying upon government at virtually every level is far too often an unhealthy one (you may want to read this recent Washington Post story to understand what’s going on at the state level throughout the country). Sure there are exceptions. But at the end of the day, lobbyists, like lawyers, get paid for their services.
Few citizens truly understand how political sausage is made. Like the meaty form, it’s often unpleasant to witness. Special interests bearing cash for campaign coffers, contributions to the wife of a governor’s pet charitable project, a trip to an all-expenses paid hunt at a cushy duck camp, and other “favors” to people of influence in government have a long, tawdry record of impacting the decision making of government regulators, be they elected legislators or heads of state agencies. Access is a lobbyist's stock in trade. To understate the point, average citizens and their interests lack this access. Dysfunctional government is one of the consequences of this disparity.
So let’s say it again. The firm isn’t being paid for its services. But to deny there exists a quid pro quo would be disingenuous. The Picard firm will tout to clients new and existing this plum assignment. It screams ability to access and influence government. Who, given the benefit, would blame them for doing it for "free"?
Perhaps, or even probably, this transition will go smoothly, and lobbyist-managed staffing decisions may well turn out to be wise ones. But it would be wiser to consider the precedent set here. Citizens take note. It’s a bad one. It shouldn’t be repeated.