Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Big Business Has A Friend-- Congress


Monday we looked at Jason Farago's definitive Cory Booker analysis in the Guardian. One conclusion that struck me was about his lackey-like relationship with Big Business in general and Wall Street in particular.
Booker has the unwavering support of the big bad industry just across the river from Newark. Since his days as a city councilor, he has hoovered up cash from the financial services sector-- but unlike many other tri-state Democrats who seduce the Street in a marriage of a convenience, Booker legitimately thinks that big money knows best and the public sector should do its bidding. When, in May 2012, Booker confessed that he found it "nauseating" for the Obama campaign to impugn Mitt Romney's career in private equity, Democrats were shocked. They shouldn't have been.

Booker's whole career has been a testament to a poisonous financial-corporatist consensus, which dresses up the interests of big money in post-ideological garb. (That helped him win the support this weekend of the most powerful man in New Jersey: George Norcross III, the feared political boss and owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who said he liked Booker because he was "a Democrat that's fiscally conservative yet socially progressive.")
Because I used to be a corporate CEO, I still get corporate CEO magazines and communications. One came this week that I actually opened instead of deleting. It was celebrating the easy access corporate CEOs and their agents have to Members of Congress. They cited a study based on a survey by George Washington University that included 328 congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle. No telling how many of their bosses are as subservient to Big Business as Cory Booker, but the study found that "65 percent of Hill staffers have a positive opinion of corporations-- calling them very or somewhat trustworthy. Additionally, the poll finds that 71 percent of Hill staffers found meetings with CEOs and top executives to be helpful when learning more about the issues that affect business." Just under half the Capitol Hill staffers surveyed say the same positive predisposition towards organized labor. 64% of Hill staffers said that meeting with corporate lobbyists was a helpful activity in formulating policy, while only 45% reported that meeting with labor lobbyists was useful.
This is great news for the business community since many corporations and associations host congressional fly-ins for their employees and membership base. A face-to-face meeting with a legislator helps you connect with your legislator and his or her staff on a personal level and can be important in building relationships for you and your organization. As proven by the study, elected officials enjoy meeting with their constituents, but many people compete for their time. When meeting with your elected official or staffer, be sure to remember the following to ensure an effective meeting:

Be Flexible
When scheduling an appointment, provide as much advance notice as possible and try to be flexible about dates and times. If you have to schedule a meeting on your own, keep in mind that your legislator will be able to spend more time with you if you schedule the meeting at his or her district office when Congress is not in session.

Be Prompt and Professional
Once you have made the appointment, be sure to keep it. It is wise to confirm your appointment a day or two in advance and plan to arrive a few minutes early. Dress professionally and make sure you are prepared to deliver your message persuasively.

Respect the Legislator’s Schedule
Remember that your legislator’s time is limited, and you are there to discuss important issues. Know in advance how long the legislator can speak with you and make certain the meeting does not exceed the allotted time. Be sure to stick to your topic, keep your comments and questions brief, and allow time for your legislator to ask questions and provide you with feedback.

Be Organized for the Meeting
Know your issue and the facts behind it thoroughly before you reach the meeting. If several people will be attending, designate one individual to act as spokesperson for the group and make sure you are all agreed on the message you are there to deliver. When you arrive at the meeting, introduce all of the attendees and allow the spokesperson to explain why you have requested the meeting. Be as specific as possible to help your legislator better understand the big picture.

Clearly State Your Position and Seek Feedback
Explain specific reasons you support or oppose the issue, including the impact of the issue on your business, your community, colleagues and industry. Stick to the issue at hand; bringing up other topics will lessen the force of your message. Ask your legislator’s position on the issue, but don’t try to force him or her to commit to a position. Request that you be kept updated on the issue and be sure to provide your contact information.

Avoid Arguing
While you are entitled to disagree with your elected officials, remember that you are not just there to win: You are there to build a positive relationship. Becoming argumentative will not help. Even if you are unable to persuade your legislator to your point of view, it is always best to leave on friendly terms so that you will be welcome another time.

Provide Leave-Behind Information
Whenever possible, leave appropriate documentation that supports your position with the legislator. Such leave-behind information will help the legislator remember your views and allow him or her to refer back to them after the meeting is over.

Follow Up with a Personal Letter
Be sure to send a thank-you letter after the meeting, regardless of whether you were able to reach an agreement. A thank you letter demonstrates that you appreciate the value of your elected official’s time and allows you to reiterate your position and underscore your concerns.
I bet it didn't take many personal follow up letters from Steve Jobs and Tim Cook of Apple to members of Congress to curry favor with the government, not if you read a new report from the Associated Press about domestic spying the same way I do:
Apple says it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data for the six months ended in May.

The company, like some other businesses, had asked the U.S government to be able to share how many requests it received related to national security and how it handled them. Those requests were made as part of Prism, the recently revealed highly classified National Security Agency program that seizes records from Internet companies.

Prism appears to do what its name suggests. Like a triangular piece of glass, Prism takes large beams of data and helps the government find discrete, manageable strands of information.

Prism was revealed this month by the Washington Post and Guardian newspapers, and has touched off the latest round in a decade-long debate over what limits to impose on government eavesdropping, which the Obama administration says is essential to keep the nation safe.

Apple Inc. said that between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in data requests between Dec. 1, 2012, and May 31 from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters.

...Facebook Inc. has said that it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests for data from all government agencies in the second half of last year. The social media company said fewer than 19,000 users were targeted.
I had dinner with an old friend over the weekend who designed-- and then ran-- a computer system for a sensitive division of one of Wall Street's biggest banks. He told me the feds asked them for access to between 30,000 and 50,000 individual accounts annually and claimed it was covered by "money laundering" statutes, although it was clear to the bank that very little of it involved a search for money launderers. The news didn't come as a surprise to me, just as the revelations in the press about Prism and other NSA domestic spying didn't come as a surprise to me. I have, after all, always taken President Eisenhower's 1961 warning about the power of the Military Industrial Complex to heart. He was certainly in a better position to understand it than any president who came after him.

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