When a Lobbyist Endorsement Means Something or Nothing

Every election cycle, candidates seek and publicize endorsements from popular officials, lobbyists, and other relevant groups.  While the value of endorsements from officials are usually face value, lobbyist groups are not.  The value of a lobbyist group’s endorsement varies based on who they are endorsing, and the language of that endorsement.

First you must know a universal truth about lobbying organizations: they are risk averse.  To a point, seemingly timid to the casual observer, but not at all – it is calculated.  In risk mitigation, the goal is to cause yourself no harm – which means giving deference to those in power if it will cause least harm later.  This is the case if a legislator opposes your goals when legislation is crafted, but holds a powerful position.  If a legislator is the chair of a large caucus, they possibly could be subject to increased deference.  In the end, the lobbyist’s goal is not accountability, but managing risk to their cause, even if that means endorsing someone that is not really committed to the cause.

An example, in 2010, I saw where the NRA endorsed incumbent Chet Edwards (D) over then challenger Bill Flores (R).  I called the NRA offices on my own accord to protest.  Edwards voted for Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker – she would burn down the NRA and bury it if she could.  Their response, (paraphrased) “he is 100% on the votes we count”.  So even though Edwards’ votes for leadership were specifically damaging to their cause, risk mitigation says they don’t count that against him.  The potential damage to the relationship is calculated and accountability is subject to risk variables.

In the coming weeks, Bill Flores will wave around lobbyist endorsements.  National Right to Life will be one of them.  When you hear him touting that endorsement, be reminded that he sided against the right-to-life members of Congress when they wanted to defund Planned Parenthood in the omnibus bill.  Conservative members wanted to remove Planned Parenthood funding and add a rider to disqualify Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements.  Flores fought against conservatives and right-to-life principles to get Obama the spending bill he wanted.  National Right to Life just did not grade those efforts.

A lobbyist endorsement of an incumbent is the default and least meaningful of actions.  Not endorsing the incumbent means the group believes the risk is the same to spurn or embrace the incumbent.  The most meaningful endorsements are if a lobby group endorses a challenger; they have calculated that there is little/no additional risk in opposing the incumbent.

So when you hear Bill Flores touting endorsements, remember, this is part of the game for Washington insiders.  All it really means is NRL, or any other lobbyist group, have a game to play and this is part of it.  We, the voters, have to take it with a grain of salt.