Sunday column: A call from Louie Lobbyist

A political magazine recently did a rating of lobbying organizations in Tennessee and a dozen other Southern states, acknowledging in doing so that this is “a thorny enterprise.” Louie Lobbyist felt that he had been pricked.

The Southern Political Report lists the state’s top five lobbying groups in three categories — big law firms with lobbying arms, “small” firms devoted exclusively to lobbying and professional associations that engage heavily in lobbying the Legislature. It’s based on an online survey of lobbyists and clients.

“Why are you promoting such biased trash?,” Louie growled in a phone call after yours truly had posted the listings on a blog.

Well, it struck me as interesting and I thought they went about it fairly diplomatically — listing by firm and not by lobbyist name, the way some of those lobbyist ratings in bygone days did, which always made a lot of you professional folks mad or jealous. You’re the first I’ve heard complain about this list.

“Well, I think there’s a bias by this multi-state magazine for the big, multi-state firms and against the little guys trying to make a lobbying living, especially some of us who have been around a while and base a reputation on our names, not a corporate marketing entity. I was not invited to participate in the survey. Adams & Reese LLC at the top, for crying out loud!”

Don’t know about that. I think you can make a reasonable argument for any group on the list — though you could also make a reasonable argument for some of those left out, including your distinguished self.

They did put the big lobbying law firms first. But that’s not unreasonable. I suspect a lot of big, multi-state businesses are looking for big, multi-state lobbying firms. And Adams & Reese’s top guy, Gif Thornton, is a mighty astute fellow who has been around a while.

The magazine kinda gives the lobbying-only firms equal treatment by listing them separately — some small, indeed. Why, the “law offices of Tony Thompson” tied for fifth in the small firms category, and I think Tony pretty much goes solo these days and has national corporate clients as well as, say, the city of Knoxville.

“Yeah, well, I’m not knocking Tony or Gif. Or anybody else. But how about the Tennessee Hospital Association as top lobbying association? Did you hear what happened to their No. 1 lobbying priority of the year, Insure Tennessee? They lost.”

So did the governor. In hindsight, I doubt that any lobbying could have turned that around in today’s political environment, even if they had hired you this year. But THA has won on a lot of other stuff — the tax disguised as voluntary assessment fee, for example, that has kept the hospital industry financially afloat in this state. As I say, you can make an argument for any group on the list and it’s an interesting exercise for political junkies. Surely you acknowledge there’s some pretty good influence-peddlers on the list?

“Well, yes. I just think it’s biased and unfair, some insider dealing there. You’re always whining about money in politics. Did you notice there’s a bias for groups that have a PAC? Almost everyone listed does. I don’t and I’m excluded.”

Yes, but I also recall that you gloated a bit when the Legislature passed that 2006 law saying lobbyists couldn’t donate directly to a campaign; they have to set up a PAC first, then donate. I think you said it was a nifty way to dodge legislators asking for money and at the same time encourage clients to start a PAC, preferably with a lobbyist running it for an extra fee. In fact, didn’t you urge the Tennessee Lobbyist Association — you’re a member, right? —to go along with that deal?

And the lobbyist association doesn’t have a PAC, yet still made the Southern Political Report’s top five lobbying association list. One could argue that Mark Greene, lobbyist for the lobbyists then and now, who charges a very modest fee for his lobbying-for-lobbyists service, provides the best buy for the money among all lobbyists. Eh?

“Well, I hadn’t thought about it that way. Maybe Louie PAC does have a ring to it. And I’ve got a friend down in Georgia who says he can get me on the survey list next year.”

Then Louie said goodbye and hung up.