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Paul Miller recently went to Capitol Hill to praise lobbying, not to bury it. President of the American League of Lobbyists, Miller offered an impassioned defense of the scandal-plagued industry. The public perception of K Street is all wrong, he argued: Lobbyists are honorable people. Isn’t Jack Abramoff a typical lobbyist? No, Miller said in his January testimony before a Senate committee � the disgraced Abramoff is “not the norm in our profession.” But isn’t lobbying all about access and money? “No,” insisted Miller � lobbying, when practiced ethically, “is as American as mom and apple pie to this country.” Given that the hearing occurred just weeks after Abramoff’s plea deal with the government, Miller’s testimony was an audacious endorsement of the K Street tribe and, curiously, not one made by a better-known lobbyist. Instead, the task fell to the 36-year-old Miller, who heads government affairs for the Independent Office Products and Furniture Dealers Association. When asked why the Senate committee chose Miller to testify, a staffer who declined to be identified said, “We wanted someone who represented the lobbying community,” before noting that other lobbyists were invited to appear but declined. The staffer’s caveat was telling. In its 27-year history, the lobbyists league has never really assumed a prominent role in the K Street community. Some might argue that, despite Miller’s congressional appearance, the league isn’t even representative of the lobbying world. Its 700 members are a pittance when compared to the more than 32,000 registered lobbyists who roam the nation’s capital. More to the point, many of Washington’s top-shelf lobbying firms haven’t bothered to join the league. By nature, lobbyists aren’t pack animals. With the industry facing a growing crisis, however, the lack of voices to defend lobbying as an institution has been noteworthy. A handful of individuals, such as R. Bruce Josten at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and John Engler, the head of the National Association of Manufacturers, have tried to convince a skeptical public that lobbying is a good thing. Still, it’s fallen on Miller, as the head of the sole lobbying association in town, to carry the standard into battle. The current controversy represents a chance for him to soar or fall. If he can demonstrate the necessary political deftness to thwart sweeping reforms that many believe would cripple the industry, he’ll be a hero. If not, the widely held image of him and the league as inconsequential will be confirmed. If Miller does ultimately fail to head off lobbying reform legislation that K Street opposes, it won’t be because of a lack of effort. He energetically made the media rounds after the Abramoff scandal broke. He is advocating a strengthening of current congressional rules, not wholesale reform. The league is also spearheading a lobbying certification program with George Mason University’s New Century College, and has sponsored a voluntary code of ethics that its members can sign. Additionally, Miller says membership has increased by about 150 since last year. Miller says he also met with staffers from the offices of Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and Representative David Dreier (R-California) in January to talk about potential lobbying reform. It’s unclear, however, whom else Miller’s group has sat down with. A staffer for Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois), who introduced lobbying legislation of his own, says Obama has yet to meet with Miller. “In most cases we are the only ones out there,” says Miller. “We have had a history of being silent on many issues, but we are the only ones representing the lobbying community.” Founded in 1979, the league was originally designed as a networking vehicle for lobbyists, and it continues to serve that function today. It was only in the mid-1990s, when Congress passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act, that the group became politically active. And the league was largely unsuccessful in affecting that legislation, concedes former president Elaine Acevedo, who presided over the group when the LDA was passed. “We were not able to make that case adequately [against the law], in my view,” recalls Acevedo, who is now a solo lobbyist. “I don’t think that any one group can speak for lobbyists. The league will do a good job pointing out the problems in not regulating all lobbyists the same. But short of that, they can’t advocate one solution.” Whether Miller can use the latest political debate over lobbying to transform the league into a true political powerhouse remains an open question. But for the moment, it is one of Washington’s oddest ironies that a profession that makes its living by lobbying for others has no clear advocate to make the case for itself. � Joe Crea

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