Is there really a lobbyist problem?

Lobbyists have been negatively portrayed in recent years due to congressional scandals and a focus on earmarks that raise questions about influence buying. President Obama even barred most lobbyists from his Administration and limited their participation in working on the stimulus bill.

But neither lobbyists nor the profession are bad, Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause, said Tuesday at a forum on lobbying held at George Washington University.

“Most lobbyists are good people who perform a valuable service sharing their expertise on issues with Members of Congress,” Edgar said. “The problem is our corrosive system of funding political campaigns that makes lobbyists a conduit between Members of Congress and money. We need to change that.”

Edgar spoke a day-long forum on lobbying and ethics, advocating for the passage of federal legislation called the Fair Elections Now Act, which would allow qualified candidates to blend unlimited small donations with substantial public funding, cutting out the role of large donors and bundlers – often lobbyists — who today dominate fundraising.

“If you’re a lobbyist, access is the name of the game,” Edgar said. “Right now, to get access to Members in our broken system you must come with a check, or better yet, a bundle of checks. Lobbyists know that and respond accordingly. Buying access and influence has unfortunately become the norm, and that’s the problem.”