Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sometimes, Lobbyists Strive To Keep Public in the Dark - New York Times

Published: March 19, 1996
New York Times

On a February morning two years ago, lobbyists from throughout the country gathered at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort in Longboat Key, Fla., to share the secrets of their successful lobbying campaigns.

Among the first speakers was Neal M. Cohen of Apco Associates, a Washington firm that had been working behind the scenes for years for clients seeking to limit damages in lawsuits. He regaled the group with tales of hapless reporters and public relations coups, but he underscored a serious theme: the importance of keeping the public in the dark about who the clients really are.

Mr. Cohen is a specialist in "grass-roots" lobbying, a Washington term for a technique often used to camouflage an unpopular or unsympathetic client. Typically the client, often a large business, hires a Washington firm to organize a coalition of small businesses, nonprofit groups and individuals across the nation. The coalition draws public sympathy for the legislation sought by the original client, who recedes into the background.

As an example, Mr. Cohen dissected for the group the successful campaign for tort overhaul in Mississippi. In 1993, he said, he began a blitzkrieg public attack on "greedy" trial lawyers, on behalf of a coalition he called "Mississippians for a Fair Legal System." He advertised for members with an 800 number on billboards carrying slogans like "Fairness, Yes. Greed, No."

To get the attention of the press, he hired a local professor to do a study that said more money was being spent on the tort system in Mississippi than on education.

Sometimes, Lobbyists Strive To Keep Public in the Dark - New York Times

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