Editor’s Note: IM takes a behind-the-scenes look at how Indiana Statehouse lobbyists ply their trade in this revealing series of articles from the March 2014 issue.
John Livengood—a lobbyist, past Democratic state party chairman, and former head of the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers—shares tricks of the trade.
I’ve been doing this a long time. Before the laws were changed, a lot of [shady lobbying] went on. And even after it was supposed to be reported, I’m not sure it always was. Frankly, how do you know? If it’s not reported, how do you know that it’s happening, unless you catch somebody on the golf course? The lobbying laws used to have loopholes so big you could drive a Brinks truck through them. The process is a lot more transparent than it used to be.
The entertainment is an opportunity to get to know the legislator. You used to be able to see legislators in the first row at Pacers games on a pretty regular basis. In a way, it gives them opportunities to enjoy things they wouldn’t be able to on their own. There is some element of their being grateful for the experience that certainly doesn’t harm the relationship. But [buying Pacers tickets for a legislator] is not something that every citizen of the state couldn’t do. It just happens that if you’re a registered lobbyist, you have to report it.
If I’m lobbying for a bill, I know that the person lobbying against me is doing the same thing I’m doing. I don’t think spending time with a lawmaker gives me a particular advantage; it just gives me an opportunity to communicate. And sometimes, it’s just fun.
We didn’t do a lot of gift-giving. Usually, I limited it to situations where I really needed to sit and talk to a legislator about something we were working on. It’s hard to catch them at the Statehouse. They don’t have private offices in most cases. You don’t get a chance to have a lot of good communication [during the session]. That’s one of the reasons I like to communicate with legislators between sessions.
Sometimes, legislators go overboard in being against gift-giving. The restaurant association used to give drinking glasses to legislators that had the state seal on them. They all got them. No one was singled out. One year, we gave them paper coasters with the association’s logo. They were worth, like, five cents. I actually had a legislator spend 30 cents on postage to return a five-cent coaster, saying they would not accept gifts.
What do lobbyists make salary-wise? A lot more than I ever did as an industry-association executive. I hear rumors. People don’t talk about it very much. I hear that some of the starting salaries are more than I made as a 40-year veteran, when people go from being a staffer [in the General Assembly] to a law firm or lobbying firm. Probably not six figures, but high five, for a starting lobbyist. It’s really become a profession, instead of just something you did as part of your daily work.
There are some legislators who, since things have tightened up, are gun shy, and they are afraid to see their names in print. The general public is pretty cynical about politics and what goes on. If politics had a better reputation, maybe lobbying would have a better reputation. I’m one of those people who like to think that, when we prevail on an issue with a legislator, we prevail because our arguments are better and we’re on the right side of things.
—As told to Adam Wren. Livengood is a past Democratic state party chairman and former head of the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers.
Schmooze It or Lose It An inside look at just how much—and, sometimes, how little—lobbyist lavish on our lawmakers.
Check, Please! The restaurants, bars, and hangouts where lobbyists and legislators get down to business.
Are You Not Entertained? Gifts from lobbyists that got legislators out of the house.
This article appeared in the March 2014 issue.