The Art of Lobbying

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Over the next three days, journalist Simona Fuma will be guest blogging from the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. This is the largest gathering of the American-Israel political action committee, where the organization’s direction is decided, steered, and reengineered.

Despite being an AIPAC critic, public affairs strategist Dan Fleshler acknowledges that “there is no organization or company in America that turns out so many volunteers for a day’s worth of congressional lobbying, each and every year.†When I boarded one of four lobbying buses for Illinois delegates, deputy Midwest director Samantha Margolis thanked everyone for coming and told us that what we are about to do “is the most important part of why you’re here.â€

After chatting for a while with my fellow passengers, we were off!—trailing behind our police escort blaring sirens—as if we were a head of state or a convention of Saudi oil barons. I never got to the bottom of why AIPACers get this VIP treatment—some people I asked thought it had to do with security—and then I noticed that journalist Dana Milbank addressed the issue in a 2005 column: “How much clout does AIPAC have? Well, consider that during the pro-Israel lobby’s annual conference yesterday, a fleet of police cars, sirens wailing, blocked intersections and formed a motorcade carrying its conventioneers—to lunch.â€

We arrive at a congressional office building and 200 AIPACers from Illinois file in to lobby their two Senators: Dick Durbin and Roland Burris, who was appointed to Obama’s vacant Senate seat by Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich under questionable circumstances. The lines outside the House office buildings are so long that one House intern tells me, “I’ve never seen it like this.â€

And now I am in a bind. The AIPAC staffers were very adamant that I could only sit in on the lobbying session if I didn’t write anything down and kept what was said “off the record.†It seems silly, since any of the 200 people there could blog about what happened.

Posted on May 6, 2009
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