Outlook is well into its second year now (this is the ninth issue) and already it seems abundantly clear that “The State of K Street” can and should stake its claim to being an annual feature of this joint venture between the CQ and Roll Call halves of our newsroom.
Last June’s initial effort produced a fascinating and detailed explanation of how the two biggest driving forces behind life in the capital today — a deeply divided government and a profoundly troubling budget picture — were reshaping the influence industry, shrinking lobbyists’ billings for the first time in years and driving them into a collective defensive crouch.
That reality remains. But an even more important (and, for government watchdog advocates, much more worrisome) trend has now come into focus. It is the rise of what Kate Ackley, who wrote the opening piece for this issue, labels “the unlobbyist.” These are the people who may claim job titles such as counselor, strategic adviser or consultant, but who act like a good-old-fashioned lobbyist in almost every perceptible way — at least to the average citizen, and probably to most people in the Capitol and in the agencies, as well. They seek out meetings with those people in power (and give to their campaigns) so they might successfully press their clients’ legislative or regulatory point of view. Or they give paid speeches advocating a client’s cause. Or they form foundations that can take lawmakers and their aides on fact-finding missions — the found facts inevitably buttressing their clients’ point of view. Or they arrange social media onslaughts that keep invisible the hands of their customers.
Newt Gingrich became the symbol for this new breed of advocate this winter, when he declared he’d earned $300,000 a year from Freddie Mac by acting as a historian. That didn’t pass the Mitt Romney straight face test, and the dynamic of the GOP presidential race changed soon enough. But the ability of influence peddlers to exploit openings in the laws governing lobbying disclosures remain — and will continue to be a main focus of the reporting team that did the bulk of the writing here. Led by veteran editor Adriel Bettelheim, they call themselves Team Wasta — after the Arabic world generally translated as “influence” or “sway” or (as a New Yorker might say) “the juice.”