Tenille and I had an opportunity to go to Washington DC on behalf of BECU (our beloved Credit Union). On day 1, Tenille had a chance to tour the Ford Theater where Lincoln was assassinated, the air and space museum, FDR memorial, and the national cathedral. In the evening, we held a reception for the staff of Congressman from Washington state, and those on the banking committee. I was astonished by how young the staffers were. They were mostly right out of their college. I don’t think I met anyone over 30 and most were under 25 years old. These were the people that met with lobbyists and analyzed issues for congressman. They were incredibly influential and most were very passionate about what they do, as they put in extremely long hours for almost negligible pay. Many live in dormitory type housing, and typically do not own cars. They often are at work past 9pm after all the receptions and parties, then on their weekend/spare time, they would help out with campaigns, which they are not supposed to do while they are working. It seemed like one big party in a way as they were young, energized, and passionate about what they’re doing. These were the gatekeepers to the congressman. It was slightly concerning that a group of young people wielded so much legislative power. I am certain they are all very bright, but wonder if industry experience may help the legislative process in sifting through all the information that is thrown at them.
The following day, we met with the staff in official capacity at the offices of Larsen, Inslee, Dicks, and Castle (Delaware). Some of the staff were quite knowledgeable about the banking and credit union industry and asked insightful questions. Others seemed like they were recently assigned to the topic. We found out that often the congressman and staff depend on people that are willing to help out with information in gathering their facts. Our law firm pioneered this industry by providing free legal advice. In return, they typically have fairly free access into congressman’s offices. We also noticed that our law firm employs quite a few ex-staffers. This is the benefit of working the crazy hours for several years. With all your contacts with other staff members, you’re in high demand by lobbying firms that need people who can make a few phone calls and arrange meetings. It was obvious that access was a valuable commodity in DC. However, I did gain a genuine respect and appreciation for the work that our congressman were doing. We had an opportunity to meet with Senator Cantwell, Congressman Inslee, Congressman Larsen, and Former Congressman Davies at an evening reception. They were hard working people
and I got an impression that they cared about the work they were doing and a general sense of integrity. Often, we are deluged my media stories that make all congressman out to be in the pockets of special interests and lobbyist groups. After meeting some of these people and having gone through the process, I think that Congressman with low ethics (as portrayed by the media) are probably in the minority. However, I would not understate the influence that the lobbyists have on these congressman. I got the impression that the lobbyists have become very sophisticated in presenting their case and convincing the congressman of their cause. The congressman are just too busy to sift through it all. I was impressed as each of the Congressman that we met worked through the room meeting with each one of us and making small talk. Our reception was likely one of four or five that evening. One of the staffers told us that this is pretty much what every evening looks like. They live off of hors’ douevres. I got pretty tired after talking with three or four people.
Some highlights of the evening included a quick conversation with senator Cantwell. She asked us if this was our first time in DC. We told her we’ve been here before, but this is the first time we got to meet a real-life senator. She then cordially invited us to take a picture with her. It probably didn’t hurt that pictures from the evening would be published in 400,000 newsletters that will go out to BECU members in her state, but it was nice of her to offer, and Tenille and I enjoyed the photo opportunity. We also spent considerable time with Trudi Inslee
(wife of Jay.) She was a wonderful lady from Bainbridge island. I really had sympathy for the Congressmen’s families. There was clearly much sacrifice for a noble cause as their husband/father commuted to DC on Monday and returning late Friday or sometimes on the weekend. In the evening, we got a private tour of the Capitol Building by a member of the US historical society. He was a
great speaker and inspiring. He emphasized the symbolic importance of the Capitol building as the center piece of our democracy. That we are ruled by elected officials. Aside from our feet aching from standing all day in marble halls, it was quite an exciting day.