Al Lewis: Calling to See if a U.S. Senator Actually Cares

Cold call every U.S. Senate office, tell them you're a citizen, and ask for a meeting to discuss a pending health-care bill.

Then cold call all 100 U.S. Senate offices again, tell them you're a federally registered lobbyist, and ask for a meeting to discuss the same bill.

No, this is not a stunt from the newly released movie, "Jackass 3D."

Josh Brodbeck, a 37-year-old organizational development and strategic planning consultant from Denver, Colo., actually did this.

After placing hundreds of phones calls, emails and faxes in April and May, here's the score: 7 meetings for Josh the citizen; 27 meetings for Josh the lobbyist.

Josh the lobbyist beat Josh the citizen by a 4-to-1 margin.

Never mind that Josh the lobbyist was an unknown force in Washington, D.C.

"What that represents is a brand new lobbyist with a brand new book of business for...the future," Brodbeck explained.

Or as they say in Washington, "Ca-ching!"

Cold calling is, of course, the fine art of finding a "yes" in a swamp of "no."

Predictably, Josh the citizen got some stand-offish replies when he called to discuss Senate Bill 702, or "The Long-Term Care Affordability and Security Act."

"'I'm sorry but the senator will not be able to meet with you." Click.--That was not an uncommon response" Brodbeck said.

One senate staffer who left a message on his voicemail actually seemed to be stewing.

"She called me back in a monotone of contempt that I was a just citizen and actually had the delusion of grandeur to think that I could get a meeting," Brodbeck said.

"What I took away from that was, 'Listen, when you're a citizen and you're requesting access to a Senator, we've got a place for you, and it's called the suggestion box.

"Now when I called in as a lobbyist, they had a whole different mechanism for me," he continued.

"They had steps for me to take. They had people to connect me to...It was overwhelming how many times out of 100 I'd get connected right away to someone who had actual power to decide whether I could get a meeting."

Again, this was not a set of prank phone calls.

Brodbeck really did register as a federal lobbyist and even got an agreement from one of his consulting clients, a software company that works in the insurance industry, to be his lobbyist client. He said he never made a misrepresentation. There was only the omission that what he was really doing was a controlled experiment.

Brodbeck said he also received assistance from a veteran lobbyist and a federal legislative analyst. And he had Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor, independently verify his data.

"This was a wonderful natural experiment in which you are just changing one thing: Whether or not you're a registered lobbyist," Smith said. "And then getting strikingly different results."

Smith said he hasn't seen a study like this before and plans on writing an academic paper based on Brodbeck's data.

Brodbeck, who does organizational research for a living, said he embarked on this experiment after writing his own Congressional delegation during the health-care debate.

"The responses I got were either automated, or if they came from an actual person, they were just not responsive. You could tell that they didn't really read what I had to say."

This led him to wonder what life be like if he were a lobbyist, and his " Senate Access Project" was born.

Based on his study's findings, an unknown citizen who calls a U.S. Senate office faces a 68% probability of receiving no response whatsoever. And if there is a response, there's a 78% chance it will be a rejection. And if it's not a rejection, there's a 71% probability of a meeting with a staffer with little or no actual influence in the Senate office.

An unknown lobbyist faces much better odds: 42% chance of a response; 64% chance of a meeting following a response; and a 48% chance of a meeting with a staffer who has actual influence.

The study found no significant differences between political parties. This is how they are.

Among some of the possible conclusions Brodbeck enumerates in his study:

"Some might suggest that it is about money; lobbyists and their clients contribute far more of it to members of Congress than true individual citizens do.

"Some would say that this is simply a perpetual symptom of the dysfunction of Washington, D.C.; that "it's just the way the system works.'"

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at or