The recent incendiary headlines regarding the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) employing “lobbyists” was another attempt by opponents to avoid substance and attack the process of building our nation’s first high speed rail system.
Make no mistake, this isn’t an abuse of taxpayer money and the holier than thou statements of some pundits are simply cowardly political attacks on very good people.
Every city, county, agency and department in government has “lobbyists”. Educating public officials is essential for them to make good decisions. Many “lobbyists” come in the form of state officials who are paid fulltime salaries and their titles reflect the education they provide. The Department of Insurance, for instance, has a Deputy Insurance Commissioner specifically for legislative affairs; their task is to support and oppose legislation that effects the Department of Insurance.
Most government entities have such a person or contracts out for them. The City of San Jose has lobbyists for Sacramento and Washington. This is not news nor is it unethical.
In the case of the CHSRA a hiring freeze made hiring a fulltime individual impossible. So the Authority utilized their public relations contract to pay for this vital service. It is an appropriate and necessary function.
Government decision makers are constantly harassed by the opposition to this project, including lobbyists paid by opponents to the project. The opposition seeks to delay and derail the project and they have no scruples in utilizing false or misleading information or in pressuring public officials to oppose the project. Lobbyists in support of the project are needed to provide current, reliable and credible information to decision makers and their role is absolutely essential for a project the scope and size of high speed rail.
These Lobbyists do not carry bags of cash around to influence legislators; they do not give campaign donations or pay for elected officials perks. They are educators who provide information so that busy people can make informed decisions.
The fact they are necessary is a result of the complexity of government, the sheer number of different government entities involved and the multiple of public officials who need to be informed on the project. Add to their challenge the disinformation supplied by opponents and nobody should envy their task.
What is more galling is the response by some current and former officials who know better than everyone else the need for this service, especially for a project this size. For them to claim ignorance of the process or imply that it was unethical or a misuse of taxpayer money is pure horse manure. Their statements are a form of political cowardice.
As for the media who has tried to turn this issue into another “black-eye” for high speed rail. It might be wise for them, in the future, to check their sources. Just because an individual is ubiquitous to the third estate, has an acerbic tongue and justifies their own actions in personal attacks on their political opponents does not make them credible. It is understandable that professionals in the media need to provide balance to any given story.
But a bully is still a coward, whether he is quoted or not.
And “lobbying” is a not a conflict of interest, unethical or a misuse of public funds. It is a necessity to insure good public policy prevails in an extremely difficult political climate and I was very proud to work with the highly skilled professionals who provided that service to the CHSRA.
Rich Robinson has worked for the California High Speed Rail Authority in the past. He is not currently under contract.