If you don’t know what you are going to do before you run into a compromising situation, then you’ll probably make a bad decision.
A long-term lobbying career is built upon reputation. Having worked for governments, corporations, and universities, I have found that legislatively enforced ethical expectations for honesty, accuracy, and credibility somewhat shield a lobbyist from a principal’s demand to win at any cost and may help restrain a lobbyist’s own hubris. What may be standard procedure in your marketing department is forbidden in legislative affairs.
Reputations that take years to build can be lost with the wrong word. A committee chair speaking about a lobbyist l knew said, “He lied to us once. He’ll lie to us again. And he’d better never show his face again before the [Florida] Senate Natural Resources Committee.” Arkansas State Sen. Uvalde Lindsey told me he distrusts lobbyists who are, “Technically accurate but not totally forthright.”
And to save its own capitol influence, a principal will retire or fire a deceptive lobbyist as a “rogue employee,” doubly ending his or her lobbying career. The lobbyist above kept his job but was removed from working in Florida.
A personal reputation for integrity may save you if you do lose a job. When a former boss heard that I was laid off in a corporate downsizing (a lobbyist is just overhead!) he called to offer me an immediate two-year and better paying Canadian lobbying assignment. He needed honest talent and sadly had been ripped off by a contractor with neither.
Yet, be forewarned that keeping your integrity as a new or younger lobbyist will not always be easy. Not only a desperate principal but also lawmakers and staff can be less than sterling in their own characters, at times exploiting young (and even older) lobbyists and their principals.
If you accede to unseemly conduct, legal or not, your behavior will not remain secret, especially if consensual. Exposed, you will be held in lower esteem by lawmakers, legislative staff, and other capitol players thereby damaging, if not ending, your effectiveness and finally your career.
However, don’t expect or fear external pressures toward ethical lapses. They happen but are rare. More likely it will be your own hubris that leads to a fall. If you misstep, be the first to announce your own bad news. Correct misinformation immediately. Cultivate a good mentor. Whether it’s COVID or avoiding unethical behavior, sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Employers come and go. But reputation is forever. Know what you are going to do before the compromising situation arises. Resolve to protect, no matter what, your most valuable asset, that is, your integrity and the good name that goes with it.