A Missouri senator wants to forbid lobbyists from paying people to wait in line for them outside hearing rooms, saying the practice reinforces the culture of buying access to Congress.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a freshman Democrat, proposed legislation today that would require lobbyists to certify twice a year that they have not paid anyone to save a seat for them at congressional hearings.
McCaskill said the practice of hiring professional "line-standers" to save seats for well-heeled clients prevents regular citizens from getting into crammed hearing rooms to see the legislative process at work.
"We need to make sure this place is available to the people who own it and that's the people of this country, not the lobbyists," she said.
McCaskill made her comments at a news conference outside the Senate Commerce Committee hearing room, where dozens of paid line-standers had been waiting since — a.m. for seats at a hearing on wireless technology.
As she spoke, lawyers, lobbyists and communications company employees who had paid up to $60 an hour to secure a good seat arrived to meet their hired line-standers.
The line-standers are an eclectic mix of bike messengers, college students, retirees and others looking to make some extra money. They can make $8 an hour or more, depending on the job.
Jay Moglia, a 47-year-old bike messenger who was first in line for the Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday, called McCaskill's proposal an affront to the free market.
"These hearings are open to the public and anybody can come wait," said Moglia, who works for linestanding.com, one of the biggest local companies in the business. "From the grass roots end, I can understand her issues, but it's capitalism and democracy."
But McCaskill said professional line-standing should be prohibited in the same way that the practice to lobbyists buying gifts and meals for lawmakers was banned in ethics legislation passed earlier this year.
John Winslow, director of linestanding.com, conceded that lobbyists pay for the service because they believe it gives them an edge.
"There's a certain amount of simple face time that lobbyists are trying to accrue with members of the committee and there's only one way to get that face time &
it's to be in the front row of that hearing," Winslow said.
Eric Peterson, a lobbyist for the Rural Cellular Association who did not use a line-stander to get his seat on Wednesday, said lobbyists don't win any special advantage with lawmakers just by sitting in the hearing room.
"I don't see this as face time with the Senators," Peterson said. "We're an audience watching them."
Proposal would ban lobbyists from paying to save seats