As the owner of a public relations agency, and someone who has worked with governments, lobbyists and journalists, I analyzed The Sunday Times of London expose on lobbyist Stephen Payne (Stephen Payne: a hotshot lobbyist who can get you into White House, July 13, 2008[i]).
Beginning with the basics; bribery is unacceptable, and for a democracy or civilized government it is wholly abhorrent. If that is what happened, it is illegal and reprehensible. That said, I am sure that it will be fully investigated, and I am also very confident that the investigation will lead to little or nothing.
Yet, lobbyists and PR firms are hired to represent and to advocate on their clients' behalf. It doesn't suggest that they agree with the causes; its business, not academics. Public relations specialists and lobbyists use their skill and resources to change minds, address laws and affect lives. The job of a lobbyist or PR pro, once they agree to accept a client, is to use every means within law and reason to arrange access, introduce and sell a client's viewpoint or objective. That's a fact; the concept that Paine was going to be paid to attempt to offer access and persuade policy is his business, and it is the sole purpose of the business of lobbying.
The author included, albeit buried towards the very end of the article, "that the payment to the Bush library was not a 'quid pro quo' and that his company had performed many 'good things' for the world that were 'ethical and always above board... He said that making a payment to the library would have had no impact without the client's cause having merit..."
So, what he said was, and as the video included represents: If you make a donation, serious people are more likely to listen to you over the crowd of others waiting.
How many political requests does any government receive? Cold calls? Urgent matters? The way of the world, like it or not, is about access and money. In this real world, those who pay are often taken more seriously. There is, of course, outrage that money vastly improves ones ability to gain access. Our system of democracy encourages this. Elections bring the need for campaigns; campaigns bring the need for campaign donations; donations grab the attention of the individual running for office.
Whether is should be that way is a great philosophical question that is often debated and even fought over. Still, no one has yet to develop a better system of government than what we know as our popular election system.
Access and name dropping are key parts of business for lobbyists, PR firms and those in political life. It is often how one gets in the door for new business; most of which may never need the access, save the fact that the client knows you have it. We see this on all levels of business in almost every business. Friends introduce one another for leads; others use a golf course, country club or fraternity to impress and flaunt. Isn't that offering access? It is, and government access is no different. Payne had access, he dropped names; no scandal!
Also, many in PR are often too quiet about actions by an overzealous media attempting to make headlines and sell ink. Media oftentimes can endanger a client's business interests to the point of no return. Some reporters, believing they are doing a public service, or thinking a "hard hitting" exposé will get them broadly noticed have zero boundaries at all; pure ruthlessness, often believing they can dictate morality and attack someone, while few call into question the tactics of the reporter.
The media is supposed to be impartial players in the news reporting process. Reporters should give the public objective facts and not impose his or her opinion. Unless the role of the media, is as Howard Kurtz so aptly states regarding a similar incident involving Ken Silverstein to "lie, deceive and fabricate to get the story?"[ii]
Certain elements of the media seem to have no restrictions when it comes to destroying people, businesses and those they deem not to agree with. To me, it comes as little surprise that Payne is someone supposedly close to the Republicans in an election year. Most of American media today leans left and anything on the right is fodder for ideologues with a bully pulpit... that pulpit being a keyboard and the Internet.
Clients pay for positive outcomes, but also for protection from potential negatives. One cannot approach media feebly or even be lulled into thinking they are friends looking to serve the cause of justice. Journalists often claim a mantle of self-righteousness, self appointed and self governed; it neither makes them right nor gives them the right. The public can decide right from wrong based on objectivity.
I recall my recent experience when a Journalist at top tier investigative TV news program called me. The reporter relentlessly pursued an interview with my client, and we were not accepting any. I was running out of ways of saying "no" kindly. He called my client's office when he could not get me to move. He insisted on speaking with my client, yet I told him again politely "He's not interested." Making a long story short; he cursed, threatened, and bad-mouthed me, then he called for weeks on end. He could not get his way "" and was shocked.
Lobbyists, lobbying firms, PR agencies and the like exist to help influence public opinion. As long as the world has existed there have been people serving in those roles. Even God had Moses use his access to his "brother" Pharaoh to lobby the cause of the Hebrews. While of course Presidential libraries must not be built on bribes; being paid to perform a service and providing access are not bribes.