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Fred Thompson, Lobbyist?

The Democrats’ have already put out several hit pieces on Fred Thompson; one of the points they emphasize is that he worked as a Washington lobbyist before and after his service in the Senate. Today, the Associated Press took up the theme in an article titled Looking at Thompson’s Lobbying Past:

Republican Fred Thompson, who likes to cast himself in the role of Washington outsider, has a long history as a political insider who earned more than $1 million lobbying the federal government.
As a lobbyist for more than 20 years, billion-dollar corporations paid Thompson for his access to members of Congress and White House staff.

You get the drift. There’s a reason why people in public life generally become lobbyists after they’ve run for office, not before. Lobbyists are like lawyers (many of them, like Thompson, are lawyers) in that they are available for hire by clients who may or may not be “right” in a public policy sense, but who deserve an opportunity to plead their case. A lobbyist need not agree with all of his clients’ positions as a policy matter, any more than a lawyer need agree with all of the postitions his clients take in litigation. But it’s easy to make a lobbyist look bad by associating him with his clients’ causes.
That said, the ammunition against Thompson is pretty thin. Most of his lobbying activity fell between 1975 and 1993, when, according to the AP, “lobbying clients paid him about half a million dollars.” That works out to a gross of less than $30,000 a year–small potatoes, although it may not seem so to the average voter.
Thompson renewed his lobbying career after leaving the senate in January 2003, but it appears that he has only worked on behalf of a single client, Equitas, an affiliate of Lloyd’s of London. From 2004 through 2006, according to Open Secrets, Equitas paid Thompson approximately $750,000.
The AP highlights three issues on which Thompson lobbied over the course of his career. The first is savings and loan deregulation:

One of his clients at the time was the Tennessee Savings and Loan League, on whose behalf Thompson lobbied for a bill to deregulate the industry. Experts say the final version of that bill played a large role in the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s, opening the door to widespread fraud and mismanagement.
The fiasco ultimately led to about a $150 billion taxpayer bailout of the industry, said Robert Litan, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and co-author of a 1993 report on the causes of the disaster that describes the influence of lobbyists as “pervasive, pernicious

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