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Integrity in advocacy continues to make a difference

Connie Tipton

Connie Tipton is president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. She contributes this column exclusively for Cheese Market News®.

Following are excerpts from Connie Tipton’s remarks at the Bryce Harlow Foundation dinner on April 8, 2014. The Bryce Harlow Foundation promotes excellence and integrity in business advocacy. Connie Tipton received the foundation’s Business-Government Relations Award for a lifelong contribution to her profession. Bryce Harlow served in the Eisenhower Administration and is credited with being the first business-government relations advocate when he opened the first Washington office for Procter & Gamble in 1961.

I’m an optimist at heart but when you’re an advocate in today’s Washington, I sometimes agree with the malapropism coined by the film mogul, Samuel Goldwyn, “You’ve got to take the bitter with the sour.”

Case in point. The Obama administration struck a blow against advocates like you and me when it announced that former lobbyists would be banned from administration positions and from serving on advisory committees and commissions.

Just think about this for a second. Under this ban, a man like Bryce Harlow, who never hesitated to answer the call of duty … to offer his services to presidents and Congress on some of the biggest and most difficult problems of the day, would be turned away, hat in hand.

I think this is just plain wrong … as both Democrats and Republicans have publicly and privately said … and an assault on our First Amendment rights to petition the government. This is what happens when you let a campaign trail sound-bite morph into a smothering blanket of bad policy.

And sadly, in the end, the only person being punished is the president because he is depriving himself of the experts and expertise his administration so desperately needs. If there is a question of conflict of interest for a lobbyist, then make the conversation about that, not whispers impugning everyone who makes their living lobbying.

Now, in a ruling this January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded a lower court’s decision upholding the ban. So, who knows where this will end? But the whole lobbying ban tells me two things.

First, the administration’s actions remind me of the old aphorism sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Second, there appears to be an inherent mistrust of anyone — regardless of party affiliation — who advocates for an issue, policy or position. In other words, our motives and actions are not to be trusted. Our integrity is called into question and that’s what rankles me most … as I know it does many of you.

In spite of these attacks, or maybe because of them, I’m very proud to be part of the Bryce Harlow Foundation’s mission to promote integrity in professional advocacy and to support the Bryce Harlow Fellows. Integrity is a fundamental value that all of us embrace.

Integrity was writ large throughout Bryce Harlow’s remarkable career. It was emblematic of the man. There was even a biography of him with the subtitle, “Mr. Integrity.” And by word and deed, he lived up to that billing. As an LA Times editorial said on Bryce Harlow’s passing, “This was a man of old fashioned virtues that are never out of date.”

I sometimes forget that Bryce Harlow was an accomplished speech writer for President Eisenhower so I wonder if he didn’t write these words in 1956 for Ike that still resonate today, “The strength of America’s political life depends not upon the size of political promises but the integrity of political purposes.”

The take-away for me as an advocate is that it should always be about the policies, but the integrity of the people who advocate for those policies make a profound difference. And speaking of making a difference, now more than ever, advocates and advocacy are what make Washington work.

Our late friend, Sen. Daniel Inouye, who was also a registered lobbyist for the state of Hawaii and proud of it, told this Awards Dinner in 2006, “Seriously, if it weren’t for lobbyists, I don’t think our business on Capitol Hill could be carried out.” Although there was some good natured joking and ribbing going on, there was more than an element of truth to the senator’s observation … and it’s not just a modern phenomenon.

Certainly, the Washington that Bryce Harlow knew when he first raised Procter & Gamble’s flag in 1961 has changed dramatically. But Bryce Harlow recognized almost 50 years ago the importance of advocacy and developing and maintaining relationships with Congress to make it work better.

And a half-century later, advocates like us provide expertise, critical information and the all-important analyses to inform the development of good public policy. We put together coalitions to garner grassroots support. We take steps together. And, together, we move sound public policy and legislation forward.

And it’s important work. In that same 1965 speech, Bryce spoke of the importance of maintaining relations with key members of Congress. It “is not simply good citizenship,” he said. “It is hardheaded realism. It often means dollars and cents in profits. It may well mean avoidance of economic disaster. Many are the times that it means keeping the ‘free’ in free enterprise.” Amen, Bryce.

Let me close by recognizing two individuals who were mentors to me. And I wish they were with us tonight. They are my dad, who just turned 96 in December, and my husband and partner in everything for 30 years, Tip Tipton.

I learned from two of the best. They taught me the importance of honesty, hard work and integrity … the ability to recognize what it means to “do it right” … and treating people with respect. Just as the LA Times described Bryce Harlow … men of old fashioned virtues that are never out of date.

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The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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