[deleted]

Comments: 122 • Responses: 39  • Date: 

ArduinoBadger24 karma

Did you ever take a call from a lobbyist? If so, what was it like?

DonCairo36 karma

Lobbyists dont call the general number for a Senator. They have a relationship with the Legislative Assistants and come in for meetings. So they either have the direct lines of the people they need to talk to, or if they're calling me its only to direct them to someone else.

ConstantlySlippery21 karma

So, it's worse than many people think.

DonCairo40 karma

A lot of lobbyists are former staffers. So they have a very intimate knowledge of the procedures and how to write pieces of legislation and had already existing relationships established with the elected officials themselves.

The lobbyists can write the first draft of the legislation themselves and work with the staffers in the office on edits and the language in the bill.

I_eat_dinner3 karma

[deleted]

DonCairo10 karma

Absolutely there were. Not all lobbyists are spawns of satan. There are certainly lobbyists that will open up their practices and are extremely selective on who they represent. The big ones are whores that will do the work for the highest bidder. But there are certainly lobbyists that will only represent people/groups that they morally agree with or agree with ideologically.

I_eat_dinner2 karma

[deleted]

DonCairo9 karma

First let me say that I as a staff assistant, my duties were primarily administrative. So yes i handled tour requests, ran the internship program, ran the front office, and worked with the legislative staff at times. But it didnt mean i was in the senators ear giving him advice or listening in on every decision he was going to make.

Just wanted to clarify that so you know that i'm only commenting on my own opinions and based on what i saw/heard. That being said, i dont think that whoever threw the most money at the campaign had the loudest voice. From what i gathered the list of priorites was something like this (in no particular order). I think every issue has a list of priorities that its attached to it. Whether its things like, what companies that operate in my state are effected by this issue, how does this issue effect my constituents, what does Harry Reid/Mitch McConnell want me to do, and obviously the money play a role.

Honestly i think one can make an argument that the pressure put on by the Democratic & Republican parties to persuade Senators/Congressmen to vote one way or another is more cancerous to the democratic process than any amount of money that is tossed at a campaign.

astromono1 karma

Yeah, but think where those party priorities come from. Do you think that still isn't ultimately determined in large part by what the big money donors want?

DonCairo3 karma

Absolutely, i've grown to be a bit cynical but I do think that ultimately its all going to be traced back to money. But as Roman tells you in GTA, you wanted Capitalism...you got it.

LittleClitoris2 karma

How enraged does the senator/lobbyist relationship make you?

DonCairo17 karma

Honestly the thing that bothered me the most was that I felt like although not everything that is done on the Hill is shady and bad, it could have been a lot worse because most of my generation is extremely politically lethargic (im now 28).

Obviously there is going to be a lot of people that are very passionate about the way that their government operates and the shit that goes on, but so far in my life most of the people i've come in contact with since i've left DC just chalk everything up to "bullshit" and dont care. I cant say I blame them because they havent seen too much reward for the time and effort it takes, but it just makes for an extremely vicious cycle that ultimately ends badly

Apiperofhades13 karma

Was he a lizard person?

DonCairo15 karma

I didn't get the reference at first but I did a quick google search and almost spit out my coffee. This might be the greatest quote i've heard from a Prime Minister

Now to answer your question, I was hoping to keep this a secret but you found out....this was the man that I worked for...

http://i.imgur.com/iS9ikFr.jpg

He was an overall good man, but really hated Italians for some reason...

flavor8011 karma

What methods have worked to get a response from the Senator himself/herself, instead of just having a call screened and logged by you? For example, if I call in with an intelligent argument and present it reasonably, is there any shot that the Senator will actually be told "one of your constituents, Flavor80 from Redditville, called yesterday and brought up a point that we haven't considered before"?

If I'm registered with the other political party, or just moved to the state and therefore wasn't a registered voter for the Senator's last election, will that impact the way my question/request is treated?

DonCairo20 karma

For starters i'd say start with the Senators/Congressmen that you're able to vote for. The only thing we really required from people to record their calls was their zip code. If they wanted a response from the Senator (in written form) we would take down their postage information. So if you recently moved. If you call a Michigan senator with a California zipcode and address you're not going to get any follow up from the office.

For your first question, I cant obviously speak for the other 99 senators but I would almost always include a specific example of a call I received from a constituent when reporting it to the Senator. So if you voiced your opinion or concerns about an issue i took notes on it to bring to the meeting if i felt like it also captured a lot of what other people were saying.

applerunner10 karma

What did you guys do with Larry Flynts monthly delivery of Hustler?

DonCairo16 karma

We would recycle em. Granted if someone wanted to take them out of the recycle bin and take them home they could....

snowlovesnow9 karma

What demographic did you hear from the most?

DonCairo27 karma

Senior Citizens.

Also I worked for a democrat so the majority of people that called in tended to be more conservative.

not_caffeine_free2 karma

This is why we can't touch social security, Medicare, etc

DonCairo5 karma

Senior Citizens are certainly a lot more active politically. They have a lot more time on their hands. So they're going to be a lot more vocal with their concerns.

_abbas8 karma

[deleted]

DonCairo16 karma

I actually have not seen it. My friends have been screaming at me for a while to watch the show because they know i'll love it.

There are a couple of shows that I saw that had the most accurate representations of government, one was The Wire (more on a state level with Carcetti/Little Finger :P ) and I think all Hill staffers are obsessed with The West Wing.

Martin Sheen actually stopped by the Hill when i worked there and pretty much everyone that saw him as he was roaming around referred to him as "Mr. President" lol

Marylandman1012 karma

do you think West Wing was an accurate representation?

DonCairo5 karma

I only watched the first couple of seasons of the show, but I do think it was as close as anyone has gotten to the life on Capitol Hill. The kinds of relationships that are forged and the ways in which they function between the White House and Capitol Hill and between people that work in politics i thought was very well established in the show.

I've heard from former colleagues and many others that House of Cards also accomplishes this, but I cant say for myself.

My favorite show or medium that shows all sides of the coin for me was The Wire. I got in a few conversations about how accurate the show was with a lot of our senior staff.

adventurepony7 karma

Do you have an example of one call that directly led to the changing of a specific policy or did that never happen? After working this job do you ever see yourself calling into a senator to voice an opinion in the future?

DonCairo5 karma

I personally never fielded any calls like that, but i know that there have been instances where someone calls and references a story of theirs and the office wants to use their story to help promote their stance on a bill. I wouldnt say it changes their perspective on the issue though.

I personally don't call a political office though. I guess i just got more or less burnt out on it.

N1_Source7 karma

Hey! Cool, here's a few questions:

  1. On average how many calls did you get in a day?
  2. What was the most hilarious thing you saw/did/heard etc.
  3. What is one thing that people would find mind blowing about the gov't?

Thanks!

DonCairo10 karma

  1. I would say it fluctuates but i'd say there were far more days that the phones literately wouldn't stop ringing from 9-5. (Granted I wasnt the only person answering the phones).
  2. Nothing really comes to mind. There was one guy that always came and visited the office dressed in a suit with such a massive beer gut that his bottom button was always popped and his gut was fighting to escape his shirt. I always found that entertaining. Oh there was a crazy woman that always called us after hours and left messages about her menstrual cycle...those were always interesting.
  3. I wouldnt say I can say anything is really mindblowing. The role of lobbyist in the legislative process was certainly impressive for me. Cant say thats really mindblowing since most people already know this.

Qumulus6 karma

I answered in a Rep's office for four months during the lead up to the healthcare vote. When I placed the phone down, it would ring in my hand. We even had a week or two where we outsourced call-answering because it got so bad. My rep voted the way leadership instructed in case anyone is wondering.

DonCairo3 karma

Yeah the phones are pretty rowdy more often than not, but we never outsourced them. I know that the House offices are going to be a lot smaller than the Senate ones, in terms of manpower so that makes sense. But we always had interns or staffers on them to take the brunt of the heat.

Serializedrequests6 karma

What information do you actually take down from phone calls regarding issues? Is it worth making a whole speech, or should I be as terse as possible?

DonCairo6 karma

I'd say its a mix. We have an internal system that helps us log all the calls that come in. We weren't able to log the call though without the zipcode so we needed to make sure that the person calling is actually a constituent.

That being said, when logging each call, we make notes on what the actual call was about. So as you're making your points my job was to write down a summary of what you were saying. I mean some people definitely went on a tangent and covered like 40 different issues as they were talking but i'd say its better for you to stay on point and stick to one issue with each call.

Marylandman1015 karma

What is your personal opinion on 'corruption in Washington' I have seen AMA where former staffers/politicians have said that it's very corrupt, and politicians are generally trying to get re-elected and find a nice job for them when they leave, and others that have said it's just an extremely tough job with no good options and politicians just seem corrupt but are generally good. What do you think?

DonCairo12 karma

Honestly, i was not a fan at all of the way things operated. Here is the best way I could explain what I had an issue with (which I dont think is really eye opening or groundbreaking information)....

Every senator is going to be extremely knowledgeable and well versed in his/her core group of issues (usually directly relating to the state that they represent). Those are the issues that they ran on. So if you represent a state for example that has an economy that is extremely tied to Agriculture, you might have a Senator who is very well versed and knowledgeable on that subject. Or if you have a state that lost a ton of manufacturing jobs, you could have a Senator who ran on a platform based on manufacturing and trade agreements. So basically there are going to be a handful of issues that these elected officials are going to be experts in and from what I saw its almost always going to be tied to the people that put them in office. So when legislation or something came up pertaining to that issue they're going to be extremely educated on the subject and thus a lot harder to sway by lobbyists or their own political party.

Now there's nothing wrong with that, it makes sense, the majority of the people in the legislative body are very smart and well educated in a range of issues. But they're not going to be experts in every one of them. That is why you have a legislative staff. They go out and make sure that you have Legislative Assistants (LA) and people that they trust in the issues that arent really high on the list of the priorities of their voters. So a state like Utah for example (I dont actually know what the top priorities are for people in Utah im just guessing here) Foreign policy may be really low on that list of priorities. So thats where the lobbyists or political parties do the most damage. It's a lot easier to convince someone to vote one way or the other on an issue. And ultimately the people with the most power are the people with the most money and can craft the best argument.

The main reason I had a problem with this, was because obviously whether a Senator is an expert or not on an issue they operate within a legislative body that has to cover anything and everything. And what i felt like got lost was that the issues that didn't necessarily seem like a high priority for them, but could easily effect people in other states/countries were up for grabs. And those decisions were based on who could make the best argument. Whether it was someone who claimed to represent a lot of your constituents, pressures from your political party telling you to just ride the party line and vote along your fellow dems/republicans, or people that donate a shit ton of money to your campaign. I just realized i'm typing up a massive essay here, so i'll tone it down. If you want me to clarify any of the points though let me know...

TLDR - No I wasnt really a fan of the way things operated. I felt like too many very important decisions were being made for the wrong reasons.

Ser_Frost4 karma

This is great to read. It's such a fundamental flaw in the system that every person in power is capable of weakness just like the rest of us.

This is now going to be my go-to "I read an interesting thing..."

How would you solve the problem you mentioned?

I'm a firm believer in a form of technocracy/meritocracy where the decision makers for a field are the best and most learned in said field. We should expect more from the people who control our schools, health and wealth.

DonCairo9 karma

Honestly I dont know if it's something that can be fixed. I know this quote gets beaten to death but I have to agree with Churchill when he said said..."Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time"

It's not a perfect system, you're not going to get a perfect system when you're talking about governing the kind of population with the kinds of demographics that exist in this country.

Ultimately I think the only solution to these kinds of problems are having a very well educated constituent base. And this is something that I couldnt be any more cynical on. The sources that the majority of Americans get their news from is in my opinion absolute garbage. Any media that tries to deliver news has become all about talking heads, and opinions. You no longer get a news story with any factual information you just get someone's reaction to a news story. People are not taught how to think they're taught what to think and they just want to remain comfortable in their bubbles.

I know that there are a range of sources (internet, journals, print) but the ones that I think do the most damage are the big 3 (CNN, MSNBC & Fox News). I'll give you a quick example...

When I worked on the Hill I would go home and watch the Prime Time shows on Fox News and MSNBC. Main reason I did this was not because I gave a rats ass about what they were saying. It was because I knew that without a doubt i'd go into work the next day, log into the phones and listen to call after call of people reciting exactly what they heard Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Ed Schultz or Rachel Maddow tell them the night before. It was disturbing to me, but unfortunately it's far too convenient for people to take a news story about legislation or an event that happens and only try to concentrate on the facts that support their ideology and throw away every other bit of information. At first I blamed the networks for this, and thought that they were trash. I still think they're trash, but i dont think they're the issue. I think the issue is the people that watch it and soak it up like a sponge. Fox News isn't bad for what they put on there network. The fact that people soak it up like a sponge is the disgusting part.

And obviously I'm generalizing here, I know that there are is a large portion of people in this country that this doesnt apply to, but in my experience i'd say they are a minority.

emars4 karma

How often would you get calls from enraged constituents? What were the conversations like?

DonCairo6 karma

Very often. The people that were enraged, usually just worked themselves up through the call and would end up just screaming at me about an issue. I always tried to keep the conversation focused on whatever the issue was so i'd make note that they were very enraged but if they weren't making any sense or didnt have a point to make i'd do what i can to just move on to another caller.

But those kinds of people generally just want to yell and scream and vent. I dont think they really cared much for the conversation to be honest

drsuperfly3 karma

If you had an issue that you wanted to get addressed by the senator and not just an aid how would you go about that?

DonCairo4 karma

If you mean like a personal request thats regarding casework i'd say just say contact the State office. Say you're having an issue with another government agency (related to unemployment, social services, immigration, or whatever the issue may be). At worst a letter from a US Senator on your behalf to those agencies could help make a difference, or they might let you know of other programs available to you to help you with whatever you need.

Like I mentioned earlier, if you have 2 senators and a congressmen that represent you, cant hurt to call them all, but i'd aim for the one thats closer to re-election. They might let you know of a program or some kind of assistance that you might not have known existed for someone in your situation that could make a difference.

Eternally651 karma

[deleted]

DonCairo6 karma

I'm sorry i should have clarified, when I say state office i dont mean state government. I mean Senator Sanders or Leahy's offices in the state. They're still a part of the Senator's office but they just handle casework issues. So you're still getting the Senator's help, generally the DC offices of Senators/elected officials concentrate more on legislative issues and the State offices deal more with the casework issues.

Eternally650 karma

[deleted]

DonCairo3 karma

Actually, most Senators will host a constituent breakfast or coffee once a week for about an hour or so thats open to the public. So assuming you make sure you're around during that time, you can certainly get an opportunity to meet them.

And since most people don't want to drive/fly all the way to DC just to meet a Senator, i'd keep my eye on when they do any events in your state. They might not always be open to the public but whether its a town hall meeting of some kind or a gathering, i'd say most Senators do want to meet their constituents.

geoffrey4mile0 karma

will host a constituent breakfast or coffee once a week for about an hour or so thats open to the public

...to that segment of the public that can afford to fly to DC, i.e., corporate lobbyists.

DonCairo2 karma

there a shit ton of families that visit dc, and a lot of them that make it to these constituent coffees. Crazy to think right, that the nations capitol might actually be a vacation spot for American families

WWLadyDeadpool3 karma

Did you get a lot of threats?

DonCairo7 karma

Not really, a few a lot of people would work themselves into a fit of anger but other than cursing no one really would threaten the Senator or anyone in the office.

IshallReadtoYou2 karma

How do you folks deal with requests for nomination for the military academies. Is there a specific vetting process?

DonCairo6 karma

Yeah we had a specific application process for academy nominations. You could apply through the Senator's website as long as it was before the deadlines.

Most Senators have someone who works in the State offices and deals with casework that handles the nominations so i'd contact the local office of your senator to get more info. What state are you in? I can probbaly find a link for ya.

fishyfish72 karma

Craziest conspiracy theory a constituent called with? I interned for a House member and we had a crazy guy who claimed the Chinese Government owned 3 of the local McDonald's and was poisoning everyone.

DonCairo6 karma

I mentioned this in an earlier question but we had a woman who always called in and left messages with all kinds of crazy information. She would call in and blame the government when she missed her period and pretty much had a conspiracy for anything and everything going on.

axpmaluga2 karma

How were you told to respond to constituents who disagreed with how your Senator voted? Engage in debate? Explain the reasons why?

DonCairo4 karma

This changes from office to office. At one point our office used "Talking Points" so people who handled the phones [Whether they were interns or other staff assistants] had a book with them that gave them the senators stance on a range of issues to gauge off of.

We weren't supposed to engage anyone on the phone in any kind of debate. I'd say the majority of people that called in disagreed on an issue and that was the reason why they were calling. If they knew the senator agreed with them they didnt feel the need to call.

That being said, obviously a lot of people wanted us to explain to them the senators stance, so thats what the talking points were for. As we got closer to election time, our office decided to scrap the talking points and move towards a written correspondence, that people in the legislative staff would write up. I dont necessarily think its the most effective in terms of communication, but I think it was done so the office can make sure they control the message going out.

kemmer2 karma

Do you still work on the Hill? If so, what do you do now?

DonCairo1 karma

I do not, i left a couple years ago, returned back home and did my MBA, i'm now looking for work in a few places, but off the Hill

HarleyEarl2 karma

I know I'm a little late but if you're still around...

What were some of the qualifications for your position?
Where do people often go to after they hold positions like yours?
Do they run for any offices?
If so would that help their chances of election?

DonCairo6 karma

I'd say the majority of people that get their start on Capitol Hill started as interns. One of the other responsibilities i had was the running of the internship program as well, and I can tell you that generally speaking most offices will aim to hire interns that are either currently in school or fresh graduates. There tends to be a high turnover rate on Capitol Hill so i got lucky that when my internship was done there was an open position and i applied.

People usually stick around for a while and transition from the staff assistant role to a Legislative Correspondent (LCs). LC's will get a batch of issues for themselves and work along with the Legislative Assistants (LAs) that handle similar issues. So LCs primary role is to deal with the drafting of any correspondence to constituents and to suppor the LAs on their issues (whether thats writing Legislation or meeting with people). It does happen where an LC can move to LA on their own but most people that get hired as LAs have some kind of formal training in that issue. So if you're an LA that concentrates on military/defense issues for example it would help to have a military background, or if have a post-graduate degree on the issue at hand.

There are certainly a number of people that hold office today that started as interns and I worked with a few that had aspirations to run for office. I think a few actually started as Capitol Police officers as well.

In terms of whether or not it helps in their election i'd say thats debatable. I think most politicians in this country have a more unfavorable reputation so you hear the word "Career politician" thrown around negatively when people are running campaigns because it leads people to believe they've been part of a corrupt process their whole life.

crushcastles232 karma

Are you the guy who knows who the gay Senator is?

G1adi4tor1 karma

[deleted]

crushcastles231 karma

Its a reference to a Confession Bear post a while ago where someone claimed that they were having a gay affair with a super conservative senator.

DonCairo5 karma

I hate advice animals, only good ones are the tigers. I feel like 80% of the confession bears are bullshit

G1adi4tor1 karma

Oh I see. Did OP ever deliver?

crushcastles231 karma

No.

DonCairo1 karma

I answered this in another question but as /u/G1adi4tor mentioned the only Gay senator i know about is Tammy Baldwin.

I imagine that there are more gay peeps in the House though just cause they tend to be younger and theres more of em.

As for me having a gay affair with a super conservaitve senator, im afraid that wasn't me.

Gothmog_1 karma

What led you to become a staff assistant? and how do you get the gig?

DonCairo1 karma

I started as an Intern and proved myself capable while I was there. When a position opened up at the end of my internship I applied.

It's really no different from any other job. Forge good relationships with the people you work with, do your job efficiently, and dont be a douchebag. Worked fine for me

dirtybeans1 karma

Could you describe your job as the punching bag between politicians and the public? Is there any reason to call them if you dont have a problem? Would people call just to check in or say that the senitor is doing great?

DonCairo3 karma

At times I certainly felt like a punching bag. But it was very easy for me to not take things personally.

But some of my favorite callers are the sweet old ladies that call in just to say Thank you and they love the work that the Senator is doing, or are just excited.

And on another note, I was a tour coordinator for a while (setting up tours for constituents to visit Capitol Building, White House, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Library of Congress, etc.) and although there were plenty of people that were hard to deal with, generally speaking it was a joy to be able to help a family out and make their vacation a little easier. Always loved meeting them when they came in to the office and showing them around.

neutralchaos1 karma

I have a friend who worked as a staffer for a few years in DC. I asked him similar questions about trying to get some action from the senator/congressperson.

The main thing that came across is that the politicians spend nearly all day on the phone "dialing for dollars". He also said that individual voices do little to effect change since the politician isn't trying for individual votes but to get blocks. Do you have any comments on this? Did your person spend all day raising the next campaigns funds?

DonCairo1 karma

Well there are very strict laws prohibiting separating campaign and the legislative office.

That being said the Senator did have a block of time scheduled on some days for which they were doing campaign calls. I wouldnt say it was the majority of the day at all, but i'm sure some Senators/Congressmen do it differently.

Mamertine1 karma

Did the Senator actually care what people's opinions were?

I call mine from time to time and get the impression that they really don't care what my opinion is.

DonCairo3 karma

I'd say when it came to the phone calls, he cared a lot more about the overall influx of the calls and what topics dominated the phones.

But I will say that the Senator I worked for always talked about conversations he had with constituents whether in State or at events here in DC where they voiced their opinions on things. They certainly cared about what constituents said to them when they met them in person.

hoodyuplod1 karma

did you ever take a call from a prostitute or an escort ?

DonCairo5 karma

No not while in the office. But I will say that anywhere with that kind of power is goin to have a thriving community of high class escorts. I heard rumors of some steak houses and nicer establishments around DC where they go to try and pick up congressmen. But i never got to see any of this go down obviously, with the salary i had and the extreme cost of living in DC, i'd be lucky if i could have witnessed a rub n tug at a shady asian massage parlor.

Birdmann0170 karma

Are you the guy who talked about the gay senator and then didnt come out about it?

DonCairo6 karma

I didnt know of any gay senators while i was working on the hill, isn't Tammy Baldwin a lesbian? She's a US Senator serving Wisconsin. I mean i know that doesnt get nearly as much press as it should but I think thats awesome.

waitwutok-6 karma

Does D.C. seem like a weird melange of sycophantic Ivy Leaguers who were too big of pussies to try their luck in NYC and morons who pine to work in a mindless job for 20 years longing to retire to the "good life" of a government pension and a paid off mortgage? That was my experience.

DonCairo4 karma

haha no