My short bio: I have worked in the Senate and as a senior aide to a member of Congress in the House of Representatives. I'd prefer to answer questions about process more than politics, but I will do my best to field all questions accurately and to the best of my knowledge. I just left Capitol Hill to....wait for it....lobby Capitol Hill, so I can try answering questions about that as well.

EDIT: For those attacking me personally, I understand that you are frustrated that you feel like you don't have a voice in politics or that the system is stacked against us, but I promise you I am not who you should be angry at. Please put that energy to good use.

Comments: 531 • Responses: 141  • Date: 

DoChess51 karma

Sooo...is the House of Cards representation of congressman any accurate (i.e. coke, partying, irresponsibility, etc) or is it just sleepy old men?

HillStaffThrowAway85 karma

It's not even remotely accurate in my experience. The best and most accurate portrayal of staff culture and how process works is Veep. That show nails how all of the climber sycophants, policy geeks, and creepy special interests gum up the process.

BillWeld11 karma

So much for the bad guys. Who are the good guys?

HillStaffThrowAway50 karma

People who vote. People who stay informed and work in their daily Lives to make change.

Patman11189 karma

Granted the West Wing follows the West Wing, but how does that show compare to real life (if you have seen the show).

HillStaffThrowAway11 karma

To me, it's aaron sorkin speaking at us through characters. Veep is 1000x more accurate, albeit still covering the administration.

Patman11189 karma

One thing about VEEP is it seems that even the Vice-President wasn't immune to stupid mistake, comments, or gross incompetence. Would you say that is the same for Congressmen?

Oh what are your predictions/your congressman's opinion on 2014/2016? Or do you not discuss that much?

HillStaffThrowAway12 karma

And as far as VEEP: I've spent entire weeks fixing mistakes I didn't make. It's pretty spot on.

FunkyTowel22 karma

lol! I think this picture is relevant for that subject. http://ih1.redbubble.net/image.11262355.4623/flat,550x550,075,f.jpg

Like anything, there's no simple solution. Dumping money into a charity doesn't end social ills. Holding elected officials feet to the fire, and demanding civilian oversight of appointed government employees can help. But at some level, you have to break up the culture of corruption, somehow, which means massive social change.

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

We aren't very good at that in America. In fact, we are particularly bad at it. We couldn't even stomach the idea of having affordable health care. It'll probably take a major crises to bring about major change.

_venkman7 karma

As someone who has very little knowledge of congressional-staff-culture outside of House of Cards, I'm very intrigued. Could you go a bit more into detail about what was accurate/inaccurate?

HillStaffThrowAway9 karma

In HoC? Nothing really. House of Cards is not a show about politics. It doesn't really try to be. It's a pulp scandal story. Watch a few episodes of veep. It's 100% accurate.

4509253 karma

Well this is what I kinda say to anyone who says "isn't that about politics" It's a Series about the human condition, about the morally grey people that do whatever they can to advance/defend their standing... If anything it's like Game of Thrones set in this world. A Drama show that uses Politics instead of battlefields.

HillStaffThrowAway4 karma

Yeah. It's a glimpse into the world of a sociopath who happens also to be a powerful politician.

twogunsalute29 karma

What kind of field are you lobbying for?

HillStaffThrowAway72 karma

Big oil, increased off shoring of money, less oversight of PACs, etc....

(But really, infrastructure investments)

TuckerMcG42 karma

The hate you're receiving is due to the fact that your sarcasm about the Big Oil stuff doesn't come across. The stuff in the parenthesis make it look like you were saying you do infrastructure investments for big oil, not infrastructure investments generally.

That's why people are reacting the way they are.

HillStaffThrowAway27 karma

I think it goes deeper than that. People justifiably want someone to be frustrated with.

TuckerMcG20 karma

I mean to me it seemed like you were saying you work for one of the most hated lobbyist groups in America. Sooo my guess is others took it that way too. Nobody hates people that lobby for good causes.

But if you really think that people hate you for lobbying for better bridges, go ahead. I'm just saying from an outsider's perspective who was confused by your wording, that such confusion is likely to be the issue.

HillStaffThrowAway13 karma

Again, I was joking. And I dont think people are upset that I lobby for safer bridges. I think they are upset with Congress because its part of a broken system that we feel powerless to affect, so anyone they can get access to becomes an easy scapegoat.

Triassic_Bark4 karma

Hold on, how do you lobby for "safer bridges"? Who pays you to lobby on behalf of public safety?

HillStaffThrowAway10 karma

I don't advocate for safer bridges specifically. I advocate for safer infrastructure broadly. Baby jesus pays me for doing god's work. And a non-profit organization.

TuckerMcG1 karma

Are you saying you were joking in your previous response to me? If so you really need to work on your tone. It doesn't come across well at all.

If you're saying you were joking originally, then I already know that. Ultimately, you write in a really confusing manner. Even figuring out what you just said is confusing.

But I do have a question. Does everyone on Capitol Hill write their emails with the same confusing tone you do? If so, then I think I know why Congress is so dysfunctional...

HillStaffThrowAway8 karma

To be clear. I do not work for big oil. After that, I do not understand what the confusion is.

Mixin_Up_Yer_Crayons4 karma

I would much rather not have a reason to be frustrated.

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

Me too! But it's not my fault the system is broken. I didn't come in and break it 4 or 5 years ago. I tried my hardest to always act out of idealism.

Tzeentch2 karma

[deleted]

HillStaffThrowAway6 karma

Because it was broken for 100 years before I came?

rolfr3 karma

For what it's worth, I thought it was hilarious.

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

Thank you. I don't know how I could have been more clear that I was joking!

NoWordOfALie-7 karma

You must have a lot of enemies.

HillStaffThrowAway8 karma

Must I? Why?

NoWordOfALie-20 karma

Anyone that is for big oil, offshore drilling, and less oversight of campaign contributions is bound to have democrats, some libertarians, green party supporters, and many unaffiliateds up in arms.

HillStaffThrowAway13 karma

It was a joke.

impickingmynose-16 karma

Then put /s after your statement. It denotes sarcasm. It's thing.

HillStaffThrowAway21 karma

Duly noted. /s

[deleted]-17 karma

[deleted]

HillStaffThrowAway10 karma

Fuck you too. I sleep at night because I don't make moral decisions that are any more or less weighty than anyone else I share this part of the globe with.

How do you sleep at night?

Triassic_Bark-26 karma

Bull shit. You are a lobbyist. You purposely attempt to disrupt democracy for corporate interests that are destroying our planet. That makes you the scum of the earth. I hope you get penis cancer, prick.

HillStaffThrowAway15 karma

Damn. This was a real breakthrough moment for me! Thank you!

LovelyBeats-8 karma

What, That's it? No rebuttle? Being sarcastic doesn't make you right.

HillStaffThrowAway6 karma

A rebuttal to what, exactly?

Aimee69695 karma

There's always going to be someone who does this job. Instead of being mean, why don't we ask why he chose to do this particular kind of work. Do you find it rewarding? Do you ever feel like anything you do challenges any sort of moral or ethical belief you have? Thanks for doing this AMA, btw.

HillStaffThrowAway5 karma

This is such a great question. And one of the toughest to answer. My bosses have voted in ways I have disagreed with for moral reasons, but as my last chief said "if you want to vote no, go petition to get on the ballot." We all make moral decisions all the time. Whether it's choosing not to buy goods made in horrible conditions, to cell phones with rare earth minerals mined from war zones, we make tough choices because that's the world we love in. I believe the bills I wrote and encouraged my boss to support ultimately make the earth a better place, so...not ideal all the time but I never hid my idealism.

EmceeDeltaT25 karma

What are the main differences in atmosphere between the House and the Senate? Like, the organization,how frantic it may or may not be, personalities of staff, etc. I'm not looking for the purposes of the Senate/House, per say, as I could just Google that. I'm asking the differences in aesthetics or other subjective details.

HillStaffThrowAway68 karma

The house is a zoo. You can be a chief of staff in your late 20s, so there are a lot of young, anxious climbers on that side. The Senate tends to value technocratic staffers more, so you find that aids are older and have more experience (and aren't nearly as concerned with impressing each other as house staffers). Aesthetically, the House is a dump. Staffers are crammed together in tiny cubicles. In the Senate I had two wide screen monitors and a wide screen television at my desk, my own closet, and their bathrooms are literally marble lined.

ningrim20 karma

How does the whipping process typically work? Any examples of strong-arming or horse-trading to secure a vote you can share?

I have an image of Frank Underwood going to work on someone.

HillStaffThrowAway24 karma

I was never at the receiving end of this. There just haven't been that many crucial votes where one Democrat was going to make or break the legislation's success since I came on board. I think prior to the tea party wave, when legislation was actually moving, this was probably far more common.

edit

It's a LOT harder to twist arms with earmark bans as well.

sizzle_chest_mcgee17 karma

How common is pay to play? Is it done with an envelope of cash (how it works in my state legislator) or is it funneled through proper channels and campaigns?

HillStaffThrowAway20 karma

This is a great question.

The two worlds are kept separate by law. No campaign business can be conducted in a member office, and lobbyists can no longer just walk around handing out checks. Both offices I worked for had outside contractors who dealt with their campaign finances, and they only communicated with my Chiefs of Staff. The member is obviously aware of where his or her financial support is coming from, but because I worked for safe members, I don't think money drove their policy nearly as much as interests within the state (businesses in the district, ethnic groups, etc).

Edit I didn't really answer your question about pay to play: in both offices I worked ANYONE from the state could get a meeting with staff. Both bosses would personally meet with student groups when possible. Higher level meetings with the bosses tend to a bit more...selective? But not necessarily based on who is giving money. If a CEO of a business in state is coming in to talk about concerns, they meet with the boss. If a group of folks who want the U.S. to put an embargo on olives want's to talk to us, staff handles it.

Henryradio9816 karma

How'd you get the job?

HillStaffThrowAway21 karma

I worked for free for 6 months to prove my worth to an office and was eventually hired. Blew my savings. I think its similar to other fields where demand far outweighs supply.

tempest_8710 karma

Interesting that you see it as "demand for jobs" as opposed to "demand for workers".

HillStaffThrowAway13 karma

I probably just worded it poorly but demand for jobs definitely outweighs the supply. 800 resumes came in for my last position.

luckyAZ12 karma

What is something small you were asked to cover up? Examples, "I hate shaking hands, like pizza with no sauce, or extramarital affairs are neat.

HillStaffThrowAway36 karma

One of my bosses wouldn't let us take meetings with a particular lobbying firm because they were "a bunch of whores" (financially, not literally prostitutes). He made us take meetings with them in the cafeteria so they and their clients knew where they stood with our office.

I probably have more examples. If I think of something I will come back to this.

FranzVonSoxhlet11 karma

Do you view yourself as part of the problem or part of the solution?

HillStaffThrowAway34 karma

I don't view MOST staffers as part of the problem. I think the majority of them really do believe, in an idealistic way, in the work they are doing. I think the problems are our campaign finance laws, our election laws, and our shitty fucking media that treats the whole thing like a reality show instead of doing their jobs.

As for myself, you know, almost everything we do is a moral decision. Did you look at the tag on your shirt today to see where it was made? Did you buy gasoline? What city was your food grown in? Who picked it? How did it get to you? We are all part of a problem despite our sometimes best intentions.

Shoelace_Farmer12 karma

I finally convinced my dad after years of trying that fox news is NOT fair and balanced. I felt like I had won the superbowl.

HillStaffThrowAway15 karma

Fox news is awful. I don't see MSNBC as much better. News channels should not advocate on behalf of a party, but instead on behalf of the truth. It's so conflicting when corporate conglomerates prevent them from doing so.

FunkyTowel210 karma

I liked how one poll showed that most people trusted The Daily Show the most where political news was concerned.

HillStaffThrowAway13 karma

Well if you watch one episode of the daily show and 30 minutes of MSNBC, it's immediately clear who is being objective. Sadly, it's not the "news" show.

sylban3 karma

I blame media consolidation for most of that. There aren't enough competing voices. A decade ago, I worked very hard on that, including going to D.C., to hold the line on media ownership caps. We already took a huge hit on that front in '96, and we're determined not to let it get even worse.

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

Gods work. It needs to be broken up.

MakeYouFeel3 karma

I think the problems are our campaign finance laws, our election laws, and our shitty fucking media that treats the whole thing like a reality show instead of doing their jobs.

What do you think is the feasible way of fixing those issues?

HillStaffThrowAway5 karma

Your guess is as good as mine. It's so overwhelming.

Dontstealmyfebreze2 karma

Do you think Internet freedom and the transparency of organizations like Wikileaks is changing the "reality show" spectacle of American politics. Are they aiding in making the TRUTH more pressing to the masses?

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

I don't think the masses have any idea what wikileaks is =(

Dontstealmyfebreze2 karma

Well, they've at least been well-introduced to Julian Assange - the alleged rapist, sexist, and paranoid conspiracy theorist (as portrayed by popular media). There has to be a level of basic recognition at this point. Is there a genuine tension among white house staff with regard to waiting for new cables to be released?

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

I don't work with white house staff at all, and on the hill, I don't think anyone knows/cares/pays attention. It really is an administration headache more so than a congressional one.

Public_Serpant11 karma

[deleted]

HillStaffThrowAway8 karma

Honestly, it was such a small part of my experience. Most people I worked with were awesome.

Public_Serpant11 karma

[deleted]

HillStaffThrowAway8 karma

It's hard to blame people for being misinformed. I try to be empathetic. The news, aside from the daily show and npr, certainly isn't doing it's job

slapknuts10 karma

Do lobbyists really have as much direct control over politicians as reddit likes to think they do?

HillStaffThrowAway19 karma

Yes/No. I don't think most people understand what lobbying looks like. Lobbyists help give people a footprint in Washington D.C. Some corporations and interest groups have in house lobbyists, and some hire firms like The Podesta Group to work on their behalf. I can give a lesson on how policy is crafted from cradle to grave if people are interested, but shortly: lobbyists aren't the problem. Campaign finance laws are.

slapknuts6 karma

I've gained a basic understanding of your views from reading your responses...or so I'd like to think. I'd read your lesson one way or the other.

How would one get started working in your industry?

HillStaffThrowAway12 karma

In lobbying, work on the hill. People talk a lot about the revolving door (although I would argue that returning to the hill, then to lobbying, ad infinitum, is the revolving door), but lobbyist are paid because they understand the process of policy making, and it is hard to gain that knowledge without firsthand experience.

ningrim10 karma

In divided government and as a minority party member, is the focus more on shaping public opinion rather than policy making?

HillStaffThrowAway19 karma

In a divided government, everyone is in the minority. Holding one chamber still means you are sending legislation over to another chamber to die. So yes, I think people take votes on bullshit bills they know are going nowhere simply to message to their base. It's the absolute worst part about working on the hill right now, and is 95% of why I quit.

rayzman1810 karma

What did you major in?

HillStaffThrowAway8 karma

Political science with a focus on environmental policy.

bstampl17 karma

How much does a House staffer get paid? How often can that change? Does upward mobility imply jumping ship to either lobbying or a Senator's staff? What makes a successful staffer?

HillStaffThrowAway7 karma

Congressional salaries are publicly disclosed. If I recall correctly, average pay for a senior policy staffer are in the high 50s.

gogojack7 karma

Has your experience made you more or less likely to consider running for office?

HillStaffThrowAway14 karma

I have literally never considered running for office. I am a painfully introverted policy geek, not an a-type politics person.

But lets pretend I wanted to run before working on the hill. I wouldn't now.

undercoverballer2 karma

What about for local office? You've said numerous times in this AMA that you believe change comes from the ground up. As an aspiring community organizer and activist, I agree with you 100%. I think if we can elect local community members that actually understand their constituents needs on a fundamental level, as opposed to elites who have never been charged overdraft fees (yes, please punish me more for being broke) or worked a minimum wage job, we can effectively rebuild within the established system. One of Mass's long-term beloveds, Barney Frank, decided against running for reelection partly because local govt redistricted his constituency in a way that made it more difficult for his reelection campaign. That is just one example of how local govt can make a difference on a national scale.

Thanks for answering so many questions, I've found this AMA exceptionally intriguing!

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

I've never really involved myself with local politics but I know a lot of really amazing stuff is going on at the local/state level. Federal government obviously plays an important role, but I don't see it as the most creative environment.

gogojack6 karma

Wow. Kudos to you for sticking it out for this long despite being treated poorly!

Since you're still here...

What's a typical lobbying experience? Talking over lunch or dinner or having a formal meeting in an office? And once you've got an established relationship with someone, does it become more of a casual thing with an "oh by the way can you support us on this?" at the end of the conversation?

(I ask because that's how it works in my line of work)

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

No lunch/dinner. Even if we are both paying for our own meals, it opens up too many ethical questions. I just take meetings with staffers. Present them with data. Help them to understand our position, whether they agree or not. It's hard with a non-profit because we don't really have much to offer them for their support. I've been around long enough that I know most of the people I'm meeting with, so the environment is very casual.

Approval_Voting6 karma

I am interested in changing the election process itself, specifically by enacting Approval Voting. There are reams of evidence that this reform can improve governance, specifically help both incumbents (by avoiding the Spoiler Effect) and voters (by letting them always vote for their honest favorite). Do you have any advice in how to convince members of Congress that something relatively esoteric like voting systems is worth their time?

HillStaffThrowAway10 karma

Sadly, I don't. I am a huge believer in open primaries and instant runoff voting, but I think it just has to come from the local level and move up. Change on that level is unlikely to come from the top down.

Approval_Voting6 karma

Thanks for the response. Knowing there are people involved in Congress at any level who are aware of these issues gives me hope.

If you have a minute, I'd like to try and convince you that Approval Voting is better than Instant Runoff Voting.

HillStaffThrowAway9 karma

Awesome. Bookmarking the link now!

FunkyTowel22 karma

Maybe you could require larval politicians to pass a citizenship test. That might weed out the Michele Bachmans and other airheads from running.

HillStaffThrowAway7 karma

If stupid people want to elect stupid politicians to represent their stupid beliefs, thats the system we have and have to live with. For better or worse.

FunkyTowel22 karma

Spoken like someone who doesn't have that witch campaigning in your back yard. ;)

Oh wait, you said you were from Virginia? Meh, you got plenty. :D

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

Not from VA. West Coast. Sorry to hear it, but she'll be gone in months! I do think its sad that the electoral process rewards people like her in the primaries. An open primary with instant runoff ballots would probably prevent her from making it through to a general.

Durendalv26 karma

What was the most comprehensive piece of legislation you worked? Do you think current bills have gotten out of hand in terms of length and the number of amendments added?

HillStaffThrowAway6 karma

Amendments, yes. With so called "must pass" bills, there are so many non germane amendments attached for various reasons. And often times members will attach "poison pill" amendments to kill legislation they are opposed to or to gum up the process.

I don't think bills are "too long" as many people charge. Amending or updating the us code is not always simple and sometimes requires long lists of technical corrections, insertions, and amendments. It's also worth noting that bill text fits in incredibly narrow margins. A 2000 page bill, in reality, is maybe a 10th of that.

I've authored several bills. Nothing over 60 pages. Mostly basic adjustments to existing policy. No appropriations or increased budget authority on any of them.

TheSonicRetard5 karma

Why are the oldest, most technophobic, out of touch members of society able to dictate sweeping laws in fields they have absolutely no area of expertise in? Why are old white men who got useless degrees 40 years ago making laws on bleeding-edge medical breakthroughs, internet protocol, communication standards, etc? How often do you think "good god my boss is a moron"?

HillStaffThrowAway10 karma

I respect both of my former bosses, but they were old enough to be out of touch with modern technology. Some older members are SUPER in touch. It's weird how it lands on some and not others. It's one of the most frustrating things on earth, having people who have no idea what they are talking about shaping particular policies. Like when a room full of men hold a hearing on abortion with all male witnesses. Way to go, Congress!

TheSonicRetard2 karma

I guess I was mainly speaking about my recollection of a senate hearing meeting regarding SOPA in November, 2010, between representatives for the MPAA, the RIAA, Time Warner, and a lone Google representative as the "opposing" viewpoint.

As a late 20's-early 30's person, that was my introduction to C-SPAN. Being a literal computer scientist working on bleeding edge research, it was a subject I was intimately passionate about (and this was well before the SOPA protest in 2011). I had always ignored politics prior to that (mainly because I felt unqualified to speak my voice), but I cared about that debate so much and felt that I was an authority (or enough of an authority) to pay attention and speak out.

That single meeting was the most disappointed I've ever been in American politics. I saw what amounted to glorified bullying by a bunch of jock assholes who couldn't pronounce the technologies they were debating legislation on. They used the term "nerd" over 60 times in the hearing, as in "I'm not a nerd [so I don't claim to understand how this works...]"

it sort of made me realize that, as clueless as these people are in the field I'm most familiar with, they are just as clueless in a wide range of fields. I'm no doctor, but I can imagine how it would be frustrating to see our leaders debate health care in the same way it was frustrating for me to watch them debate internet protocol. It was a very eye-opening moment for me, and not in a good way. Since, I've consciously tried to become more involved in politics, although I still try to keep my mouth shut when I'm not certain (a fool opens his mouth and let's the world know he's one, after all).

Sad to say, but I don't believe that the best and brightest run our country. I appreciate your response, though.

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

I got the sopa part, just saying its not limited to that. People who are uninformed should not be making decisions about policy. It's horrifying.

GentlemanFromNV1 karma

Do you find Chuck Schumer's flip phone as funny as I do?

HillStaffThrowAway4 karma

Does he have a flip phone? That's terrifying.

ningrim5 karma

What percentage of time would you say most members spend in DC vs. in their state/district?

ningrim5 karma

take us through a typical day for a member of congress

HillStaffThrowAway5 karma

Someone asked if they eat lunch with lobbyists and then deleted it, which is a shame because that's a great question:

They fit lunch in where they can. Their days are really dynamic and the schedule can shift a lot. I don't know that I've ever heard of one of my former bosses having lunch with a lobbyist or interest group. I think that might cross some ethical boundaries.

HillStaffThrowAway5 karma

I wish I could just post a copy of my former boss's daily schedule, but when he is in DC it is roughly this:

8:00 AM - Receive token award at some interest group fly-in day

9:00 - 11:30 AM - Take meetings with various lobbyists, interest groups, student groups, or community members from the district.

11:30-1:00 PM - Attend Committee Hearing

1:00 PM - 3:30 PM - More meetings

3:30 - 4:00 PM - Votes on House floor

4:30-5:00 PM - More meetings

5:30 - 6:30 PM - Final Votes

6:30 - Whenever - Attend a dinner or fundraiser

Marylandman1013 karma

what about dialing for dollars?

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

I answered this elsewhere. Both of my bosses were pretty safe as incumbents and didn't do a lot of personal fundraising. Closer to election season, they will go hold fundraisers for the party or other members.

Ron_Jeremy3 karma

Is the 8th award thing just an excuse for the interest group to interact with the Congressman or is there some actual connection.

HillStaffThrowAway4 karma

It really depends. I'd say 80% of the time its an excuse to have a member of congress present to give their organization legitimacy with their members or for fundraising purposes. Sometimes it's totally deserved and valued by the member though!

Ron_Jeremy3 karma

I can't remember who said it, but there was a claim that there was a facility near the capitol that members would go to dial for dollars and that they took a big chunk out of each members day. True/false?

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

True. For Democrats in the House its the DCCC. You can see on the map how close it is to the House offices. Does it take a big chunk out of an average day for a member? Not really. Closer to elections, moreso.

ningrim4 karma

In general, how much of a members' vote is based on direction from leadership ("we want you to vote yes/no") vs. other factors (constituents' preference, member's own personal conviction, lobbyist's desires)?

HillStaffThrowAway9 karma

It depends on the member and the vote. Before votes are called, the whips office sends out an email blast to all of the staffers with vote recommendations unless the issue is highly controversial among the party (keystone, for example).

My bosses generally voted with leadership, but not specifically because leadership advised us to. We have also voted against leadership on some key votes. When that happens it is generally either driven by completely different ideological positions on one specific issue or because cough lobbyists cough.

tootie2 karma

Can you elaborate on the last bit? Do lobbyists legitimately convince your boss to change a vote on it's merits? Is it because they need the campaign cash? Somewhere in between?

HillStaffThrowAway7 karma

It really is a case by case basis, but I will make up a total hypothetical thats rooted heavily in reality:

Let's say a vote is coming up on a bill that democrats generally favor to give greater labor rights to toll booth workers. But we haven't heard a word from the toll booth workers, so we assume they aren't in our district, and we HAVE heard from the highway authority who arent opposed to the bill in principle, but they are worried that the way its worded could have unintended financial effects, and they ask us to vote for it. Way may normally vote with leadership, but because of who we heard from on the issue, we might decide to buck them. Particularly if the highway authority has been a strong partner in the past.

bassistmuzikman4 karma

In your opinion, how can we eliminate/limit corporate greed playing a role in who gets elected and how those representatives vote?

HillStaffThrowAway23 karma

I don't have a solid answer on this. While I can see how it affected the process day to day, I don't have a policy background on the issue.

Roughly, I would say:

1) Limit campaigns to 16 weeks.

2) Public financing of elections.

3) Open primaries with instant runoff ballots.

bassistmuzikman4 karma

What's a typical salary for a lobbyist like?

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

Here's what some website claims: http://www1.salary.com/Lobbyist-Salary.html

I don't have an exact answer for you. I don't lobby for a corporate interest, a pac, or an organization with a pac, so I probably make far less than others.

hometimrunner3 karma

I have two questions!

What really is the best way to get information in front of a member of Congress?

Also, how willing did your congress-person seem to listen to things that might go against their personal beliefs?

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

It depends on the member I guess. My bosses both liked to be kept informed as to what we were working on and who we were hearing from. Others are probably more and less connected. Somewhat logically but perhaps unfairly, it IS easier to get their ear if you represent a major interest in their state, whether that be business or labor.

My most recent boss took meetings daily with people he fundamentally disagrees with.

MasterPooBlaster3 karma

What is your favorite part about living in DC? I spent a few months their on Internship, and I love the city.

HillStaffThrowAway8 karma

Leaving for vacation =P

I think its luster wears off quickly. My favorite thing is living in a small, urban environment with good infrastructure for non-drivers.

Flemtality3 karma

On a scale of one to ten, ten being maximum corruption and one being completely devoid of all corruption. Where do you personally view Congress in general to be?

HillStaffThrowAway7 karma

I don't think you can separate Congress from the vague idea of "the system" that surrounds it. I'd say the system is inherently incredibly corrupt when it comes to how power is represented. The day to day operations of Congress (policy making and voting), maybe 4? But our campaign finance and election laws? 7 maybe? Relative to some other countries much better. Relative to Sweden? Not great.

littlelenny3 karma

Truly hoping this doesn't get buried so here goes nothing:

I'm currently interning on a congressional level (remedial office/constituent work) and working in my statehouse (same type) as a senior in college. I'd be interested in your basic credentials. Degree, previous experience etc. but I'd also like to hear what you have to say as far as the intangibles and strategies for breaking into the job market go. Of course connections make a difference but I work with a lot of people that picked their guy from the state level and worked 3 sequential campaigns just to get him into Congress, as current and recent graduates.

I don't know whether to take whatever I can get or "pick my guy" and work my ass off essentially for free just to get him and myself a job. What have you found works best for you? What do you think naturally sets you apart and what are some things anyone can improve on?

HillStaffThrowAway7 karma

1) There are no remedial jobs. Don't speak about yourself or your work like that to anyone. Are you answering calls? Great, that frees up someone above you to pursue policy initiatives. Answering constituents? Now they feel like they have a voice in government. It is ALL good work.

2) Make your own connections. I didn't have connections when I moved here (my parents dont donate to politics, or work in politics, or have any voice in it.) But I worked hard, met people, asked for their advice, and followed the best of it.

3) Take what you can get to get your foot in the door. You can work for a mental slug and still be an incredible staffer. In fact, lets say you do work for someone less than ideal who other members dont respect. But then they see amazing legislation coming from that office. They KNOW the boss isn't writing it. Just take what you can get and go kill it.

4) Be the best staffer you can. Meet everyone. Work hard. Don't ass kiss. Lead from behind when necessary.

SpackleButt3 karma

You mentioned infrastructure investments. Can you be more specific? Roads & bridges? Fiber optic networks? Gas and water lines? ETC...

HillStaffThrowAway4 karma

Roads and bridges. =)

SpackleButt6 karma

How scared should we be about driving over these crumbling bridges in this country?

HillStaffThrowAway12 karma

REALLY fucking scared.

http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

Like...terrified.

SpackleButt3 karma

That's kinda what I expected and yes I'm terrified every time I pass under a bridge here and see that orange spray paint circling a big chunk of concrete missing or a big crack in a bridge.

Thanks for the response.

HillStaffThrowAway6 karma

I legitimately wish I had a better answer for you! Actually, there is good news. That D+ is an improvement over the previous grade!

FunkyTowel21 karma

Don't worry, just watch how hard the DOT salt trucks shake the bridges. And if it resembles a 6.0 earthquake, avoid that bridge. :D

Working with MichDOT was fun, I didn't know a damned thing about structural engineering, or paving, but talked with a lot with people who did. Now I can spot all sorts of crazy road defects, bad bridge joints, etc. So it's not lack of detection skills, it's just an issue of roads being insanely expensive to build and maintain. Especially in a swampy area that freezes, and burns though 50 gallon drums of calcium chloride solution like they're beers at a summer picnic. :D

HillStaffThrowAway1 karma

Mmmmm. Salt beer....

kdst19953 karma

Mind the ignorance but I'm from the UK. So what is lobbying and how does the process of lobbying work ?

HillStaffThrowAway9 karma

Lobbying is petitioning the government to take, or not take some specific action. Anyone can lobby their member of Congress simply by advocating for some position. But a professional lobbyist is someone who has connections to the legislature or administration, understands the process intimately, and can help give people a footprint in government.

As an example, lets say business X in ohio finds out the government is going to require a product be used for some reason (I don't have a great example here. How about industrial diamonds?) and they happen to produce industrial diamonds. But china produces them for less money. So they may hire a lobbyist to come in and say "great idea, but can we slap a make it in america provision on that?" In theory that will make them far more competitive, so its worth the money they spent to hire that lobbyist.

pums3 karma

[deleted]

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

It depends. One thing lobbyists do well is bring us research on issues. We are understaffed and overworked and cant keep our fingers on the pulse of every single issue. A good staffer will turn to experts in the field for data to inform their decisions.

smb072 karma

1) Did/do you enjoy a career in the political arena in general?

2) Would you do it again if you could start over?

3) Is there a country's government you'd rather be a part of? (politically or personally)

Thank you!

Edit for structure.

HillStaffThrowAway8 karma

1) No. Not really. It's frustrating working in a career field where people believe they have total carte blanche to attack you personally for working in (as is entirely evident by some people in this AMA).

2) No. Definitely not.

3) I don't know. I don't know that much about other governments, honestly. I do think the grass tends to always look greener, but don't know if it really is.

EtriganZ2 karma

I'm currently working for a state legislature in a non-partisan capacity, but I really want to get to the point you were at. How did you get a position as a staffer?

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

I've answered that a few times but the cliff notes is that in my mid 20s I took an unpaid position in a senate office for 6 months until I was able to fool them into hiring me :)

nyshtick2 karma

What kind of interaction did your office ever have with the White House? Did the President ever have to call your MoC to convince them to vote a certain way (I assume this is more likely in the Senate). Did staffers try to whip votes as well? Also, if you worked in Congress during multiple administrations, please make that clear.

HillStaffThrowAway4 karma

Members are occasionally invited to the White House, particularly because of their affiliation with things like the Congressional Black Caucus or the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Definitely far more common in the Senate. The house is the high school student council of government.

lickemandSTICKem2 karma

This might be buried and has a 90% chance of not being answered, but how often do political "games" the likes of House of Cards really happen in the world of politics that we never see?

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

In MY experience very little. But the last two congresses also haven't done anything groundbreaking like health care reform. I don't doubt things get ugly at the top. Not frank underwood ugly. Watch veep. That is exactly how shit goes down.

lickemandSTICKem2 karma

Never heard of veep. I will check it out. Thanks for the reply!

HillStaffThrowAway4 karma

Hbo. It's a comedy but it nails this world so perfectly on the head. The frustrations are so often far less nefarious than people think and veep captures it.

MyEarly90sScreenName2 karma

where do you & your colleagues like to go out in DC? my personal favorite recently has been H st. NE.

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

I never got into the hill staff crowd. After work I really like to disconnect.

But I do like H street. I prefer divey bars. There's some good spots up near columbia heights.

Marylandman1012 karma

what are your thoughts on the 'revolving door'

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

It's regrettable but makes logical sense. I want to work in advocacy so I go work on the hill to learn the process. When I leave to go advocate I gain valuable technocratic knowledge on an issue, which then prepares me to reenter government at a hire level. (This is hypothetical. I will not return to the federal government)

pyramidmirrors3 karma

[deleted]

HillStaffThrowAway6 karma

If I was advocating for "whatever the highest bidder hires me to advocate for" (what does that even mean? do you believe there to literally be an auctioning block? or a complete sellers market in the workplace where I can just take my pick of high paying jobs?) I would be making far, far more money than I am right now. It's so ignorant and cynical to assume everyone here is self interested and not driven by idealism.

Marylandman1012 karma

would you say the majority of people in congress are trying to do what's right?

HillStaffThrowAway6 karma

What's right is so subjective. I believe MOST members believe what they are doing is right.

IAmA_curious_person2 karma

What's your educational background like?

Also, being a NY state leg 'senior' staffer: Do you have any advice on how to transition into the lobbying world, or other government relations careers?

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

Just apply, I guess. Show how your experience in government better prepares you to help have a positive effect on government policy.

My background is just a B.A.

IAmA_curious_person2 karma

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

Your experience is unique and marketable for people who want to create change (for better or worse) in government. I am sure that if you just start shopping yourself around, youll find that people are interested.

Up2Eleven2 karma

Is there any such thing as a lesser evil anymore?

HillStaffThrowAway1 karma

Good question. Don't have a good answer for you. Wish I did.

Marylandman1012 karma

What are your thoughts on Noam CHomsky?

HillStaffThrowAway5 karma

I love Noam Chomsky. He's the least charismatic human on earth, but he is so smart. He was one of my early influences when I was a younger, angrier leftist.

pat_trick1 karma

Thank you for the informative AMA! If there was something you were to pass on from your experience to the world at large about the perceptions vs reality of working at the Capitol, what would you say?

HillStaffThrowAway5 karma

It's hard to say. Reality vs perceived reality are so different. I think at the end of the day the biggest failure is our news media. They've capitalized on making politics a reality show and focus on stupid, low level rhetorical arguments rather than holding people accountable. But why would they when they are owned by the same corporations they should be holding to the fire?

pat_trick1 karma

Are there any news groups that you would say do a better job of reporting / holding accountable than your typical CNN/MSNBC/FOX?

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

Christian Science Monitor. NPR. Comedy Central. CNN on foreign policy...sometimes.

ramanom1 karma

I'm hoping to land a job on the Hill after I graduate this May. I have several contacts through my Hill internship and school alumni, any other tips you have to put me above the rest of the field?

HillStaffThrowAway1 karma

Work harder and humbler than the entire field. You may have to take another internship just to get your foot back in the door. Stay on people's radar. Be a friendly pest. You can private message me if you have specific questions. I'm happy to help.

MoshpitAtABBAShow1 karma

I have a couple of questions for you...

  1. What kind of educational background and prior work experience do you have, and is your background typical of congressional staffers?

  2. Regarding the legislator you worked for: How was their personality compared to the image that the general public sees? Did they seem to believe in what they were doing?

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

1) I have a bachelors degree in political science. Almost everyone on the hill has a bachelors degree in political science. (Which is kindof a bullshit thing, in my opinion, but there you go). Lots of lawyers. Lots of grad students with degrees in public admin and public policy and foreign affairs. I have background in international development, which was entirely unrelated to my policy portfolio, and rural development in the U.S., also unrelated to my policy portfolio.

2) I liked both of my bosses a lot as people. I think the process is totally fucked and makes people do things they don't believe in from time to time. From our election and campaign financing laws to how ineffective our news media is at holding people accountable. I could talk a lot more about this subject.

ceci_na_pas_une_ame1 karma

Thank you so much for doing this AMA! Right up my alley...

What advice would you give to a person who is interested in getting into politics (campaigning/govt atty/lobbying etc) but has too much debt to work for free in a congressional/senate office?

HillStaffThrowAway4 karma

Politics, I don't really know. Start volunteering on campaigns and work your way up to a paid staff I guess? You could also try working at a district or state office for a member. I think those positions are far less coveted. Lobbying, you either need to be an expert on an issue or on federal process, which comes in part from hill work.

This is an important point you are making though. Whether its student debt or simply coming from a lower income family that cant afford to foot the bill for you to work for free (I was lucky enough to have just enough savings to pull it off in my mid to late 20s), you don't have as fair a shot as those of means. It's a hugely inequitable system, which is awful.

on2wheels1 karma

Do you firmly believe the north american way of life is sustainable with the level of consumption and waste what it currently is and that the US is immune to becoming a 2nd world nation once natural resources are depleted to some level we currently cannot predict?

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

No. I do not even not-firmly believe that. I think we are on a pretty negative trajectory.

Its_not_me_its_you1 karma

[deleted]

HillStaffThrowAway5 karma

Yes. I just don't think Congress will take the action on their own behalf.

Its_not_me_its_you1 karma

Thanks for the response! Follow up- in your eyes, what would it take?

HillStaffThrowAway5 karma

Cities and states need to implement election reforms. California has made some good strides with redistricting reform, a jungle primary, and some cities are implementing runoffs.

mikayakatnt1 karma

What type of hats do you like to wear?

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

I don't think I've worn a hat since I was 12?

nogooddannyhood0 karma

Do you have any real-world experience?

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

Like. Have I ever killed a man? Or? Happy to answer this but can you just be a bit more specific about what you're asking?

GuyForgett4 karma

i think they are asking whether you have ever done anything like a "regular person," because as we all know working for the Gub'mint or elitist academia is not the "real world."

HillStaffThrowAway1 karma

I assumed that to be the case but when people ask loaded questions I like to be sure I know exactly what they mean. If that's what he or she is asking, condescending as it may be, then yes.

nogooddannyhood0 karma

I know plenty of kids that ran off to DC to become staffers and work their way up in DC. Only one left DC to work private industry with the hopes to return in a decade with real-world experience.

My question: Have you or do you have plans to work in the private sector (non-lobby) to gain a more rounded perspective? Or does your career path include DC-based or lobby-based jobs only? Follow-up question: Don't you think all these poly-sci majors going to DC without any real sense of the real world is bad for politics and the public (whose policy is largely made by these same folks)?

HillStaffThrowAway1 karma

If your goal is to work in federal policy, what could be more "real world" than working in dc? Most federal policy isn't that hands on. Would working as a construction worker better prepare you to design funding formulas for transit appropriations. People in dc work with "people on the ground" daily to shape policy, and if they don't they aren't worth keeping on staff.

I have worked outside of federal government and certainly will again. But if my goal right now is to help shape national policy, what do I really stand to gain from working elsewhere? Perspective? I'm not that blind to the world that I don't seek out perspective every single day.

smb07-1 karma

What's your name?

HillStaffThrowAway4 karma

What's your name?

smb074 karma

Sam. Ball's in your court.

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

You're a brave hero. I am not giving out my name on reddit.

lahgic-1 karma

I understand you don't want to be a recipient of anger. However, don't you think you contribute to the problems by engaging in, and profiting from, the system? I've talked with many financial industry people who are nice people with good intentions but they have been so conditioned in believing what they do carries more social utility than it actually does that they're entirely incapable of objective assessment of the value - or even worse, purpose - of their role. I see politicians and those who engage in that spectrum as very similar. They have extremely inflated views of their roles. I'm an engineer and it bothers me intensly to hear politicians - mostly attorneys - talk about STEM careers when they have zero clue on the subject. Zero. When Obama recently said the Dem's are doing "God's work" it reminded me of Blankenfein's testimony on Capital Hill where he said exactly the same statement. They're - financial industry and political class (politicians and career political engagers) - cut from the same cloth. Do you see the similarity?

HillStaffThrowAway10 karma

Wait for it...I am not a politician. I am not your member of Congress. Nobody voted for me. I am not Obama. I do not represent fundraising dollars or donated dollars.

And if you think I am profiting from anything, you should come to DC and have a look at my pay stubs from the last 5 years.

HillStaffThrowAway3 karma

And as a quick aside, if you don't think you too are engaged in and profiting from a system of corruption, have a look at the tags on your clothes, the pay folks make in retail at the shops you shop at, where your energy comes from, where your food comes from and who produces it. I am in no more of a moral position as a former staffer than I am as a citizen.

MrGaash-2 karma

What are your favorite Series (excluding House of Cards)?

HillStaffThrowAway1 karma

Veep. Best best best show about how dc works.

Knoxie_89-7 karma

So are you the one who hides all the corrupt 'donations' to senators or do they have someone specific for that they like to use?

HillStaffThrowAway5 karma

I don't know what that means exactly, but a personal office is legally prohibited from dealing with campaign finances. All offices have private firms that deal with that end of things.

Knoxie_89-9 karma

I don't know what that means exactly

Spoken like a true politician! At least we know the AMA is legit.

HillStaffThrowAway7 karma

I also don't know what that means. I answered your loaded non-question with a legitimate answer. If you want to drill deeper into exactly what you mean, I am happy to give you more answers!

bassistmuzikman4 karma

Knoxie is implying that Senators are taking bribes in exchange for votes and that you, as a staff member, might take those yourself in order to cover for the Senator, thus clearing him of any legal liability. I'd imagine it's not quite that simple, but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this...

HillStaffThrowAway9 karma

That would be incredibly, incredibly, go to ass-rape prison illegal. I can't even take a cup of coffee from a lobbyist.

QEDLondon-8 karma

1) When you guys wore your hill passes late into the night in DC bars, was anyone ever impressed or did they all think you were wankers?

2) So you're going to be a lobbyist? What's it like to corrupt democracy and screw your fellow citizens for the benefit of the rich and powerful?

source: Georgetown alumnus who has met quite a few of your type.

HillStaffThrowAway8 karma

Regardless of the fact that you're being unnecessarily rude and making a lot of assumptions about what kind of person I am, or am not, I will answer your questions. But downvotes for you, sir. All the downvotes in the world.

1) I have never worn my staff ID outside of work. In fact, I only wore my ID at work when I had to pass through the Capitol Building. I have literally never seen a staffer wear their ID outside of work. A few interns maybe.

2) You presume my lobbying corrupts our democracy, but why? I do not lobby for a PAC, an organization with a PAC, or a member organization. We have nothing to offer members in return for their support except data showing why their support is important and our appreciation.

QEDLondon6 karma

You are right, I was rude, that was unwarranted. My apologies. By way of explanation, as a student I found the many hill staffers/interns I encountered to be insufferable, pompous, self-regarding, with illusions of grandeur, know-nothing, careerist, preening, feckwits.

I think lobbying as practiced in the US today corrupts democracy. I think lobbying with money makes a mockery of democracy. I think the Supreme Court's decisions equating money with speech instead of bribery are absurd.

What are you lobbying for (if you can say)? I might think differently if you are working for good instead of evil. It's just that most of the influence is on the side of money, power, corporates, oligarchs and well, evil.

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

As a student, you probably encountered far more interns than staffers, and far more junior staffers than senior staffers. Apology accepted.

So what you are saying is you are upset about the system, but WE are the system. I don't have a lot of sympathy for voters who don't actively take on issues, but have a lot to say about them.

I can't say, but I lobby for a non-profit. Lobbying (money issues aside) is absolutely crucial to getting things done. There's such an effort to villainize lobbyists without understanding how they contribute to informing, shaping, and moving legislation. Not everyone represents evil corporate interests =)

MagwiseTheBrave3 karma

Holy Shit. After a disagreement, there was just contrition, clarification of opposing viewpoints, and a resolution with greater understanding.

A microcosm of how the government could work.

There's hope, y'all.

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

There is no hope =(

QEDLondon1 karma

Now that I think of it, most of them were interns. The staffers I met were not going to be my friends but they weren't as unbearable as the interns.

The system has been deeply corrupted by amongst other things: money, gerrymandering, money, fundraising, House/Senate rules, money, PACS. I'm not some "Founding fathers are demigods" kind of guy but they have been rolling in their graves for some time now at the present state of our "democracy".

If you took the money out of lobbying it would be less pernicious. The problem is that under the present system the richest and most powerful get heard by politicians who need their money while citizens interests are ignored.

And don't get me started on the corrupting influence of the revolving door between government and lobbyists. You may be a white knight advocating for something truly noble and if you are, you are a vanishingly small minority amongst a horde of corrupting trolls.

HillStaffThrowAway1 karma

I hope that bunch of elitist slave owners are rolling in their graves right now.

I don't disagree at all, but people talk a lot about the issue and then don't really do much about it. Say what you want about groups like the tea party, but at least they organized a movement around their (in my opinion) misguided beliefs about government.

And I am absolutely not a small minority. MOST lobbyists don't represent evil corporate interests. Policy making is far, far more nuanced than that.

QEDLondon-1 karma

This is an honest question, not snarkiness: isn't the tea party just astroturf for Koch brothers and/or similar interests?

HillStaffThrowAway1 karma

The Koch brothers didn't coerce a bunch of folks to put on trifold hats with teabags hanging from them. At some point, something more than corporate money motivated those people to stand up for whatever it is they believe in.

QEDLondon0 karma

Oh come on, you know no coersion is needed. You fund "think tanks", spread propaganda, hit the hot button issues amongst low information voters, have Fox news repeat your propaganda 24/7, bus in paid "demonstrators", use stock photographs to represent real people, spend millions on attack adds etc.

If you build that infrastucture, the tricorn hatted and tin foil hatted will come.

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

If you are going to answer your own questions, why bother asking them?

ningrim1 karma

Power is corrupting, and lobbying is a byproduct of concentrated power.

If that power didn't exist, there would be no incentive to influence (lobby) it.

HillStaffThrowAway2 karma

Lobbying and power are two very different things. Lobbying doesn't necessarily represent concentrations of power. People literally lobby for giving attention to moths. Moths...

It's a very wide world that people don't understand well.

bstampl13 karma

You like democracy but don't like lobbying? It's called interest-group politics. You want direct democracy in a country of hundreds of millions?

QEDLondon0 karma

No. I want money in politics to be equated with what it is: organized bribery, not speech.

HillStaffThrowAway5 karma

Ah. Now I understand. If only there were some way for you and other people who share your view to have some footprint in Washington D.C. Perhaps someone could represent you and those who share your beliefs in a lobby somewhere and...oh...

QEDLondon-1 karma

Yeah, lobbyists are famous for working for poor, disenfranchized people. That's what most of you are in it for: a noble cause representing the little guy, without a second thought for your remuneration/power/prestige.

HillStaffThrowAway1 karma

90% of the lobbying meetings I took around the farm bill re authorization were specifically representing poor people, food stamps, heating assistance, and nutrition equity in our schools. So yes, they are famous for that.

QEDLondon0 karma

so why are they so bloody infective? Is it because those lobbyists have no money to spend on campaign contributions?

Here is an unrelated question that you may be able to answer given your recent experience in government Why do today's conservatives hate poor people so much? And what's with the war on women? Yesterday's conservatives merely wanted their own class to prosper and didn't care about the poor and they were casually sexist. Today's lot actively hate the poor and women. Why?

HillStaffThrowAway1 karma

Ineffective? Do you understand what percentage food stamps make up of Ag's budget? Go have a look.

QEDLondon0 karma

You call a $5 Billion cut to the food stamps programme "effective lobbying"?

According to the NYT article linked above Food Banks are bracing themselves for the effects of those cuts. 'Merica, the richest industrialized country to still allow over 16 million of its children to live in food insecurity and hunger

HillStaffThrowAway0 karma

I do. Because the republicans wanted a $20 $34 billion cut.