Today’s Los Angeles Times reported that in 1991, Fred Thompson lobbied the Bush administration on behalf of National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association to relax a regulation that prevented clinics receiving federal money from engaging in abortion counseling. The article is based on the “recollections of five individuals” as well as a document from the records of the NFPRHA.
It’s always interesting to consider how stories like this one originate. Here, it seems reasonably clear that someone at the NFPRHA remembered that Thompson had once done a nominal amount of work for that organization, and got together with his or her colleagues to give the story to the L.A. Times, in hopes of hurting Thompson’s Presidential chances. The fact that a pro-abortion group would do this tells us something about how seriously we should take the story as an indication that Thompson has pro-abortion sympathies.
There is a broader point here that I find troubling. It appears that Thompson’s opponents will use his career as a lobbyist as one of their significant avenues of attack. But a lobbyist, like lawyers in general, represents clients. To assume that a lawyer always agrees with the clients he represents is not only juvenile, it tends to undercut the premises on which our legal system is based. A lawyer needs to be able to represent, for example, a man accused of homicide without being labeled pro-murder.
Based on Thompson’s disclosures of his earnings as a lobbyist, I take it that some of his income from approximately 1975 until around 1993 came from lobbying, and the rest from other kinds of legal work. For someone who knows how things are done in Washington, lobbying may well be the most valuable use of his time. Lobbying is an honorable profession: legislators and regulators can’t possibly research, ab initio, all of the myriad issues they are called on to address. Of necessity, they rely in part on parties who have the expertise, and, equally important, the interest to lay out facts, make arguments, and try to sway them to their point of view. This is an essential part of the democratic process, and a good lobbyist makes a valuable contribution to our legislative system, just as a good lawyer makes a valuable contribution to our judicial system, no matter what clients he represents.
More generally still, just about anything a future candidate does in the private sector can be grist for the reporters’ mill. Liberals are now scrutinizing all of the companies Mitt Romney worked with at Bain Capital, looking for something they can use against him. Just yesterday, his service on the Board of Directors of Marriott Corporation was criticized on the ground that Marriott hotels make pornographic movies available to hotel guests. Dick Cheney’s excellent work at Halliburton, which benefited the American people in general and the company’s shareholders in particular, has provided endless material for dumb conspiracy theories. Something similar could be said of nearly anyone who has had a substantial career in private life.
The implicit lesson is that the only work that is immune from criticism is in the public sector. Someone like Bill Clinton, who scarcely worked in the private sector before he became President, is immune from this sort of unfair attack. And yet the last thing we should want to do is deter people with real-world experience from running for office.
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