Lobbyists are in the persuasion business. Their job is to represent the interest of clients who want something from lawmakers.

Lobbyists sway lawmakers in a variety of ways. They offer logical arguments, host lavish receptions, buy dinners, dish out Suns tickets, steer campaign contributions and, most effectively, play to egos and point out opportunities for political payback.

Term limits have created a revolving door of politicians in Arizona as House and Senate members have become more and more inexperienced. The institutional memory is left to staff bureaucrats and to lobbyists. While the legislators may introduce and debate the issues in committee, caucus and on the floor, it is the staff and lobbyists who are left to explain legislation.

Lobbyists are supposed to exist to disseminate information and educate legislators on the complexities of electrical deregulation, tort reform and the budget. Unlike most constituents, lobbyists are armed with campaign contributions, limitless expertise on the arcana of regulation and, most importantly, the time to spend countless hours button-holing our representatives in the mephitic pit of the Arizona Capitol. The better ones explain both sides of an issue; the bad ones don't, to their own peril.

The Legislature is a small community with the personality and gossip-mongering nature of a local high school. Lobbyists who have earned a reputation for burning legislators and playing fast and loose with the truth have a short shelf-life.

Some are successful because they tie themselves to a particular party or politician--Michael Williams, for example, is credited with helping Jim Weiers become Speaker of the House. Others play sage Svengali, doing all the thinking for a legislator. Tucson-based lobbyist Michael Racy has made a career of playing Pinkie and the Brain with a number of pols, helping them with all that darned confusing legislation (We're looking your way, Ann Day).

Some just do their best to be everybody's friend. Bob Fannin, who currently chairs the Arizona Republican Party, is firmly in this category. Fannin has managed to thrive at the capitol with his gentlemanly country-club manners and by jealously protecting a relatively spotless reputation with lawmakers. Of course, lobbying for an enormously powerful utility doesn't hurt either. Russell Smolden of the Salt River Project is routinely considered the most powerful lobbyist in Phoenix. SRP has famously deep pockets and the political will to open them up and squash all who would stand in its way.

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