Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Papal Lobbying 101

Known for lending his bully pulpit to heighten the visibility of oft-obscure initiatives and observances, at a Sunday Regina Caeli last year the Pope plugged the UN World Food Program's annual Walk the World day "to call for an end to child hunger," according to its organizers.

This year, the WFP wanted the Walk to get another papal mention... From Rome, TIME's Israely tells of how it got done:
Matt Keller spent a decade in Washington lobbying senators and congressmen on campaign finance reform and ethics legislation. But lobbying the Pope presented a unique challenge to the 42-year-old former senior staffer at Common Cause, who could once get John McCain or Warren Beatty on the phone. Keller has, since 2003, worked for the United Nations World Food Program in Rome, and his mission, ahead of the Pope's trip to Brazil, was simple: get Benedict XVI to mention the aid group's annual worldwide anti-hunger march, Walk the World, which coincided with the final day of the pontiff's trip. And Benedict could be assumed to be amenable: After all, he has repeatedly called for action against hunger, and even commended last year's Walk the World march during a weekly prayer in Rome. Still, a papal endorsement amid the raised visibility of the Brazil trip would be both a bigger boost and a bigger challenge, given the clamor of demands on the papal agenda while he's abroad.

Getting access to the Pope proved incomparably more difficult than lobbying Washington lawmakers. "Talking to someone like me is part of certain people's job description [on Capitol Hill]," says Keller. "At the Vatican, it all seems so shrouded in mystery." But as an advocate for the global poor, his objective is not crafting legislation, but "raising visibility." And on that front, Keller quips, "The Pope is a 2-for-1 deal. He's world famous, and can speak with moral authority."...

Keller made one last push, just 36 hours before the Pope headed for Sao Paulo. He went in person to Duncan MacLaren, executive director of the worldwide Catholic charity Caritas, at the group's Vatican headquarters....

"It's a long process. You can't just ring up the Pope. You have to use your natural contacts in the [Vatican bureaucracy]. It's Italian culture here too — who you know is important."

By the Pope's second day in Brazil — with Keller in Sao Paulo monitoring his every word and simultaneously working with a local group to organize thousands to join the march on May 13 — an email arrived from Lenz: the Pope's top aides had been made aware of the hunger event. On May 12, the Pope's final evening in Brazil, Keller got an email that left him elated. Lenz had been told that the Pope would indeed mention the march the following day during a speech to hundreds of thousands of Brazilians.
Yet another reminder that Rome is more issue-oriented than many would give it credit for... and it's good to see said attribute getting more ink.