Lobbyist “rankings”: A grim annual ritual

Former House Speaker-turned lobbyist Harold Brubaker

Former House Speaker and current top-ranked lobbyist Harold Brubaker – Photo: NC General Assembly

The North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research is a fine and venerable organization that has done many great services to the state. Moreover, its commitment to sober and thorough research in which the focus is on getting things right more than getting them fast is a welcome departure from the norm in today’s hyper-fast-paced policy environment.

That said, here’s a vote for doing away with one of the organization’s signature products — its annual “rankings” of lobbyists and lawmakers.

Every year (or at least it seems like every year anyway — I’m actually not sure how often these darned things come out ), the Center releases the results of surveys it conducts of the denizens of the state Legislative Building on the “effectiveness” of lawmakers and lobbyists. The results are then converted into a “rankings” system and released with much fanfare. Think of it as a kind of once-per-year AP Top 25 football team poll for politicos. Today, the Center released its lobbyist list.

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s most offensive about the rankings. Maybe it’s the use of the word “effectiveness,” which as a practical matter, has come to mean “power and influence.” Surprise! This year, the “most effective” lobbyist is former House Speaker and ALEC chairman emeritus-turned corporate mouthpiece Harold Brubaker. Similarly, last spring’s rankings touted Phil Berger and Thom Tillis as the “most effective” legislators. What a shocker that was! (I mean, who’s kidding who? Saying Harold Brubaker is “more effective” than some underpaid nonprofit advocate for sick kids or the environment is like seriously reporting that Florida State has a “more effective” football team than N.C. Central.)

Maybe it’s the notion that many legislators and lobbyists will quickly do whatever they can to “monetize” the results in slick marketing pitches to would-be (and current) employers.

Maybe it’s the absurdity of comparing and ranking individuals who work on radically different playing fields in terms of staff size, resources and the amount of cash they dole out in campaign contributions either directly or indirectly.

Maybe it’s just the crass, high school popularity contest aspect of the whole thing. As soon as the rankings get posted, Jones Streeters start issuing congratulatory tweets and Facebook posts to the buddies for whom they voted.

Sure, I know that the “rankings” are merely a reflection (albeit warped and flawed) of the reality of what goes on in our government and that it’s probably useful for observers and the citizenry to have some inklings as to who’s really running the show. There’s probably no getting rid of them.

If the Center is going to keep putting the doggone things out, though, the least they could do is dispense with the laudatory language and dead seriousness with which they compile and release the reports. Either that or add some new categories (e.g. “biggest PAC” or “fastest revolving door”) and maybe a handicap system that deducts “points” for, say, each $10,000 in campaign contributions dispensed.

Now those would be some rankings that would be interesting to see.

One Comment

  1. Paula A. Wolf

    August 27, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I agree that this exercise is a waste of the venerable Center’s time. There is a 1:1 correlation between legislative rankings and positional power. For 20 years, Marc Basnight was “elected” the most effective legislator. And, the highest earning lobbyists, mostly backed by powerful PACs, would trade the #1 and #2 spot on that list.
    While all registered lobbyists, all 170 members of the General Assembly and the press corps are given the opportunity to vote, most do not. The low sample size puts any conclusions into serious question. There is no operational definition of “effective” or “influential” as it used to be called.
    When there is an accurate evaluation of the dedicated work, data-driven research, intelligence and integrity of registered lobbyists, we should all pay attention. We are not there yet.

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