Maze Jackson: Hip-Hop CEO Becomes a Hired Gun; How Did He Do It?
Maze Jackson, the business man owns the 15-year-old Universal MazJac Enterprise Inc., a full-service urban advertising marketing promotions agency. Maze Jackson the hired gun is a contract lobbyist for the Roosevelt Group.
“I’m very proud of that company,” Jackson tells rolling out during a recent visit.“We still do a lot of business. Msister is taking over the day-to-day operations, as I’m able to get further into politics which is my truest love.”
In his role as contract lobbyist, Jackson has found the loophole that very few African Americans of his generation know of: as a lobbyist, he has the negotiation power of the politician, with the profit margin of a successful businessman – and all without the sacrifice of media scrutiny.
Here, Jackson reveals a day in the life of a young black lobbyist.
What is it about politics that is so appealing to you? It’s the ability to help people. It sounds corny, but if you talk to any elected official, any person that is intimately involved in politics, they’ll talk about the ability to help people.
Who are you lobbying for?
I’m a contract lobbyist, a hired gun. We lobby for a plethora of clients; our client list is 36-deep. The clients all have various interests. We do the usual suspects like ComEd, AT&T, and the big guys. But then we also do TechAmerica, which is the largest trade association of technology companies. We represent them as well.
What is the biggest misconception about lobbyists?
The biggest misconception is that it’s this nefarious group of guys that are just waiting to pay people off. What people don’t understand is that lobbying is something that you do every day; it’s about relationships.
Relationship-building is taking the opportunity to connect the dots and be able to utilize your relationships to actually generate money. There is a potential for it to be questionable at times, but for the most part, most of the people deal with a level of integrity.
After the Jack Abramoff thing happened, I really think it really scared the bejesus out of a lot of people. People may think that we walk around with a bag of money and just try to pay people off.
Once the rules are in place, nobody wants to get in trouble.
I wound up lobbying and found it was the best of everything that I wanted.
What organizations have helped you to develop your skill as a lobbyist?
Being a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity … learning how to put votes together, how to find the common interests to get things done at a chapter level and then seeing it on a regional level by participating in a conclave and seeing how politics move.
Why were you attracted to politics?
Alderman Walter Burnett really brought me into this political game. I had come home from college because I had gotten into a little bit of trouble with the law, and it was time to get out of Champaign, Illinois. I was down on myself at the time, like, what am I going to do? How am I going to recover from this?
And during the time, I saw the story of this guy who was a convicted felon, he had robbed a bank and he was trying to get a pardon. And I was thinking, geez, a Republican governor gave a Democratic a pardon, and I thought, what happened to make that happen?
And if this guy can recover — I didn’t rob a bank after all — if he can recover … I would just see him appearing at places and I would go there and try to meet him. I would call his office and try to get a meeting and I could never get a meeting.
Who were your mentors?
On a parallel track, I was the director of urban marketing for Coca-Cola, Sprite, McDonald’s, all that good stuff, and we represented Rockafella records. Ald. Burnett released a rap album about himself, his story from being a convicted felon to becoming an alderman.
We talked and I decided to help him market the album, and at the same time, I told him that I was interested in running for alderman one day. And he said, “Everybody wants to run for alderman. What’s your plan?”
I told him my plan was to run the first time, lose, and only talk to people aged 18 and below.
And then in the second round, come back in four years and run, and having cultivated that audience, those seniors in high school would have already graduated and I would have had a base because it only took 5,000 or 6,000 votes. He just looked at me for about five minutes and told me to come back and see him tomorrow.
I came back the next day and he gave me an office above his in a three-flat [building], and a place to live in the space above that. And we negotiated a deal, $1,000 a month, and from that point on, we were always together.
We’re you dressed in business suits and carrying a briefcase as an up-and-coming politician?
No. During the time I thought I was going to be Puffy, so I only wore jeans and jerseys and jewelry. And you know what? He took me everywhere in my jeans, jerseys, iced-out chain, looking like a straight up brother from the neighborhood. Ald. Burnett never kicked me to the curb.
How did your hip-hop CEO persona translate in the Alderman’s political world? The things that we were doing on the hip-hop side were the same things the elected officials were doing on the political side. You want me to take over a neighborhood [with campaign signs and/or literature]? Or plaster a neighborhood? We can do it in a night.
He asked me to run his wife’s campaign for state central committee woman, which was small, [but] it was huge to me, and it was a big deal because of who we took the seat from. He asked me to run his campaign, and we won with the highest plurality.
How did you crossover from politics to the lobbying side?
The failing Carol Moseley Braun campaign brought me together with my two partners Mike Noonan and Victor Reyes. And we decided after that, having seen and knowing each other and each other’s reputation, we decided … I was more of a facilitator than an actual contract lobbyist. This last year I’ve become a full-time lobbyist; by December I’ll be a partner.
How does lobbying differ from politics?
It’s a very different dynamic. Lobbying satisfies all of the things that I ultimately want to achieve. I want to make a load of money, that’s very hard to do as an elected official. If you’re a very good elected official and you’re focused on being an elected official, then it’s hard to be well-off.
And at the same time, lobbying allows me to be involved in the election process at a point where I can be influential in the laws that are being made. So I get the best of both worlds. And still, then also at the same point being able to help a lot of people, but now I’m able to help in a different capacity.
What is your definition of power?
Power is the ability to exert your will upon a situation and get the outcome that you need.