WASHINGTON Callers heaped insults on leading lobbyist Howard Marlowe when he sat in a television studio on Tuesday taking questions during a call-in program.
"I kind of think that you all are like money-launderers," said one caller to the C-SPAN network identified as "Bob" in Petersburg, Virginia.
"You are the person between us and politicians. You stand between us and a voice," said "Mike" in Houston.
Dressed in a gray suit, tie and a white shirt, Marlowe told the callers in a calm voice they would find they were represented by lobbyists, too, if they knew where to look.
The tense exchanges were a rare bridge between the U.S. public and the professionals who are paid to influence officials in Washington. Lobbyists push ideas as diverse as tax cuts for multinational corporations, regulatory changes for banks and grant money for local charities.
C-SPAN, a Washington-based TV network that specializes in showing the mechanics of government, hosted Marlowe, who in addition to running his own lobbying organization is the president of the American League of Lobbyists.
The trade group claims 1,400 members. In all, about 12,700 lobbyists are registered with Congress, up from 12,500 in 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying data.
Anger punctuated the 44-minute segment, echoing the low opinion of lobbyists that Americans voice in opposition polls. The profession has been battered by the imprisonment of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and by news stories of lobbyists' outsized influence.
"Rosie" in Silver Spring, Maryland, said lobbyists secretly write too many laws and regulations that elected officials then present as their own work. "There should be a lot more disclosure of what's going on behind closed doors," she said.
Marlowe said lobbyists disclose much of what they do in quarterly filings that detail fees and issues. In April, the lobbyists' league proposed making the rules tougher.
Marlowe sparred with callers who were concerned about corporate influence, telling one man opposed to the oil industry that environmental groups have lobbyists, too.
"Everybody who's listening to us has a lobbyist," he said at another point.
The C-SPAN show was the latest in a series of media appearances for Marlowe, who started his own lobbying firm in 1984 and represents localities that want federal funding for water projects and other needs.
Marlowe has said lobbyists need to counter the public's perception of them, especially as Congress weighs whether to change the rules that they follow.
In a telephone interview, Marlowe told Reuters the show went as he expected it would. The callers, he said, "have less understanding of what we do. It's easier to take it out on us than to take it out on their elected officials."
(Editing by Howard Goller)