In a true democracy, the average voter would be ensured that their individual voice matters and they would have access to their political leaders and lawmakers with an open dialogue about the issues that mean the most to them.
Instead, most Americans realize that between old school rules like the Electoral College, and new school rules like gerrymandering and political action committees, their votes represent them with less and less value as power hungry politicians continually chip away at our democracy.
Even in this digital age that we now live in, getting face to face with an elected official to discuss your cause can be so beneficial. But even that idea seems like a sepia-toned memory as multimillion dollar lobbying firms have been set up to manipulate our political system in order to monopolize the time available in front of our nation’s decision makers in order to further the interests of their high-dollar clients.
In an attempt to mimic fairness, those time slots are filled essentially on a first come first serve basis with actual physical lines forming outside of lawmakers’ offices and hearings like a Disneyfied version of democracy.
But on Tuesday of this week, the freshman congresswoman from New York, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC as all the cool kids call her) tweeted out a photograph of such a line of alleged lobbyists hoping to get into an upcoming hearing on cannabis banking laws and it did not show a bunch of bluesuit/brownshoe Chads and Brads waiting impatiently for their turn, nor did it show anyone that you may recognize from the grassroots of the cannabis movement.
*UPDATE 2/15/19 5:30pm* We were informed by an astute reader that the gentleman pictured in the brown overcoat is in fact Don Murphy of the Marijuana Policy project, and our friend Bill Ferguson was also in line that day. Kudos to both men for representing cannabis that day and for keeping their own place in line!
No, it showed a long line of mostly men, many pretty disheveled looking, and most of them either holding a sheet of paper with a name on it, or with such a paper nearby.
AOC’s tweet is captioned:
Shock doesn’t begin to cover it.
Today I left a hearing on homelessness & saw tons of people camped outside committee.
I turned to my staff and asked if it was a demonstration.
“No,” they said. “Lobbyists pay the homeless + others to hold their place so they can get in 1st.”
She immediately followed it up with a 2nd tweet stating:
Apparently this is a normal practice, and people don’t bat an eye.
The first few people in line are guaranteed a seat in a given hearing.
This was the hearing for marijuana banking laws. Lobbyists and those who can afford it pay people to hold their spot so they get in 1st.
Sadly, none of this was really news to us, but one astute tweeter – a former Capitol Hill staffer – under the handle Every Billionaire is a Policy Failure pointed out that those names on those papers represent the actual paid lobbyist that will then walk up just before the hearing begins to take their bought spot in line, toss the homeless dude a few $20s, and go about their business of swaying the law in their clients’ favor.
The example he photographed showed the name of a man named Michael Grimes, and is captioned with a link to a site called OpenSecrets.org where Mr. Grimes is listed as working for a lobbying firm called Federal Advocates who works on behalf of two big names in the cannabis industry – the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) and the brand Canndescent.
The site shows that NCIA paid about $120,000 to the firm in 2018, and that Canndescent shelled out triple that amount, $360k in their first year of paid lobbying.
Overall, Federal Advocates raked in over $4.5 million in lobbying fees in 2018 from animal rights groups, to real estate firms, to non-profit museums, and even the U.S. Brain Tumor Association.
We understand the way the game is played. We realize that with the way that our version of democracy currently functions, lobbying is a necessary tool. At Beard Bros. Pharms we are actively seeking opportunities to allow us to lobby state and national politicians on behalf of the cannabis culture as much as the cannabis industry. We feel that our grassroots approach, rooted in the struggle of advocacy and reform and fed with years of acquired knowledge could yield a highly beneficial future for society when it comes to cannabis.
So we don’t knock the NCIA or Canndescent for hiring a lobbying firm, but we do feel that even if hiring the homeless to stand in line is deemed ok by Big Pharma, or the Tobacco Lobby, or anyone else, cannabis can do better.
Ideally, we’d like to see Congress ban the practice of hiring line-standers and force the person who wants to enter the chamber to stand in the line – much like the Supreme Court did to anxious lawyers back in 2015.
We’ve been pushing this boulder of reform up the hill of prohibition for decades and we are so close to the tipping point, standing in line should be the easy part.
Note: We reached out to Canndescent to see what, specifically, they are lobbying for, and we asked them for a pledge to review and revise the hiring strategies for line-standers that represent their brand. We have not heard back by the time we went to print but will update the story if they get back to us.