Earlier this week the Sun-Times and Better Government Association revealed that cash-strapped area governments spent more than $7 million on lobbying in 2009, with much of the work going to former elected officials and long-term insiders.

The piece raises important questions about whether lobbying fees are really the best use of taxpayer money—and whether this sort of lobbying is just another way connected firms and individuals feed at the public trough.

But it also served as the latest example of another phenomenon: when lobbyists are mentioned in a news story, an election campaign, or even in casual conversation, it’s almost never because of anything good. Thanks to those who engage in backroom dealing—and the criminal antics of people like Jack Abramoff—lobbyists are widely written off as professional influence-peddlers and con artists who happen to work in the corridors of power instead of dimly lit pool halls. President Obama, for example, has declared that his administration is committed to “reining in the influence of lobbyists in Washington” and “shutting down the ‘revolving door’ that carries special interest influence in and out of the government.”