The Washington Lobbyist's Phrasebook: A citizen's guide to deciphering the mumbo jumbo of K Street.

Author:Lofgren, Mike

"... such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) ... [shall] become the Seat of the Government of the United States"


One of the requirements of my decades-long career as a Capitol Hill staffer was to learn the peculiar jargon of paid issue advocates--or, as they're more commonly known, lobbyists. I quickly learned that their phrases are as obscure in their true meaning as Cockney rhyming slang or convict argot, where the objective is to hide rather than illuminate intent.

In the interest of transparency and an informed public, I have assembled some of the more commonly used phrases. This list is by no means exhaustive, since lobbyist language is constantly evolving as it absorbs catchphrases from popular culture and the military. No doubt the Trump presidency, with its always casual correspondence with empirical reality, will make a lasting contribution to the vocabulary of a profession already noted for its relaxed standards of truthfulness.

We just want a level playing field. This is the endlessly recurring Lord's Prayer of lobbying phrases, even though no major field sports are played on a tilted surface. Translated, it means: "Treat us the same as the competition, except when not treating us the same gives us an advantage." This phrase should be engraved above the entrance of the Bryce Harlow Foundation, a nonprofit group that is supposed to promote integrity in professional advocacy.

We can't have a one-size-fits-all policy. This phrase is also very common, even though it contradicts the first one. In this case, there are "special circumstances" that require the government to favor the party that the lobbyist represents.

They keep moving the goalposts on us. Another hoary sports metaphor implying unfair treatment of the lobbyist's client. In reality, what it means is that a government procurement organization has the temerity to demand that the client meet the required cost, schedule, and performance criteria in the contract.

If you buy large quantities, you gain economies of scale and actually save money. A concept beloved by the Home Shopping Network, this is also an argument lobbyists use to sell everything from pencils to F-35S. I actually heard a radio spot on Washington's WTOP, a favorite advertising venue for military contractors, arguing that the Navy should buy three aircraft carriers at once--at roughly $10 billion each.

Don't think of it as an expenditure, think of it as an investment...

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