Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mr. Mack goes to Washington

As a professional photographer, I have worked in the Washington DC area on a variety of assignments - The Y2K celebration,  a number of Washington Redskins football games and travel photography for Adventures By Disney.
This time, I was going to Capital Hill to document lobbyists for the Financial reform bill.
I had no idea how to do this. Where do they meet? How do you get access?
Just in case you have the opportunity one day, here is the lowdown. As you know the US Capital building is on the east side of the National Mall. That is where the members of Congress meet to discuss legislation. The offices for the Senators are to the north of the Capital in three office buildings - The Russell, Dirkson and Hart Buildings. The members of the House of Representatives are South of the Capital in the Rayburn, Longworth and Cannon Buildings. When people set up meetings with either the Senators or Representatives, they usually will meet them in their office. It helps to have a Congressional Directory. In this resource, you can look up the member by state or name and it will tell you their location and contact information. For instance, if you wanted to see Florida Senator Bill Nelson, his office is at SH-716. That stands for Senate - Hart building, room 716. When inside the Senate office buildings, it is possible to travel from one building to the other with out leaving. (Leaving is bad since you would have to re enter and go through the security check point again).

There is an underground tunnel that connects the three. There is also an underground subway that the Senators can ride to the Capital. I wasn't allowed to ride that since I am not a credentialed member of the press in Washington DC.


In these meetings, I had the chance to hear the pitch. I learned how the bill is currently written and how that would affect business. I heard how this bill differs from the House Financial Bill. It was an amazing educational experience. The Members of Congress are used to having photographers around, so they will just ignore you (the perfect situation) and I could move around and take pictures.  I just had to make sure that I was respectful. No one wants to have a flash going off constantly in their face, so I had to pick and choose when I would use flash, and when I would just shoot a high ISO photo. The offices are often quite cluttered and busy - you have to try and make an interesting, story telling photo in dark rooms and not be disruptive.
Some may wonder about lobbyists and their role in Government. From my brief experience, I think that lobbyists are misunderstood. It is clear to me that the Members of Congress can not be knowledgeable about all topics. A lobbyist has to educate the Member on the issues and will try to present the case on why a piece of law is either good or bad for their represented industry. As with most things in life, there are very few absolutes - very few black or white situations. Most of the issues are shades of grey. It was very educational to hear the nuances of the proposed law and the impact that it would have on the banking industry. It is a shame that what the people hear on the nightly news will be a set of talking points that will be dumbed down for the masses.

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