Saturday :: Jan 21, 2006

A Good Lobbyist is Hard to Find

by Marie

An undefined problem can’t be fixed -- ever. The big problems in this country are so obvious that their existence is only denied by idiots. However, they are undefined and as such, will not be fixed. We’ll limp along with the problems, throwing a band-aid or two on it, until it either kills us or “fixes” itself. Iraq will more likely fall into the latter category because the people of that country will kick us out before we “kill” ourselves trying to “win.” The US medical system and elected federal government are in the former. “Solutions” for both are a dime a dozen, and so simplistic that they are easily rejected with nothing more than rhetoric.

Abramoff, Inc. is a “big problem.” One that Republicans and Democrats in Congress vow that they will fix. They won’t . They’ll probably only lop off a tentacle or two, the most visible ones. Except for the independently wealthy members of Congress, the rest of them aren’t going to play golf at St. Andrews anytime soon. They could even go so far as to ban campaign contributions from lobbyists and their employers, and legislation favoring corporations and big business wouldn’t change. Members of Congress don’t have time to write legislation, or even read proposed legislation, because they are too busy raising campaign cash. Thus, the lobbyists will continue to write legislation and provide Representatives with the legislative “Cliff Notes” designed to secure their votes for it.

Both Parties claim that lobbyists provide a valuable service and therefore, we need to keep them. Only need to root out the “bad apples.” They claim that if not for lobbyists, Congressional representatives would be ignorant, uninformed and isolated from the “real world.” That if not for lobbyists, representatives would be dumb and lazy. That the voters, the real constituents, are nothing more than a nuisance to be manipulated in each election cycle. That “the people” know nothing and have no expectations of their representatives to govern as they would if they had the time to become fully informed on every issue.

Constituents are free to lobby their elected officials. We can send letters that make our view on an issue known to our representative. We can even send give our representatives information about an issue. What we cannot do is get regular hearings with them. Wine and dine them to apply subtle or not so subtle pressure on them to vote in favor of our interests. We don’t have the money and organized lobbying effort to compete with those that do. Corporate and other powerful special interests are there to enrich themselves at the expense of the “the people.” They have special access that we the voters don’t have. If they did nothing more than supply information to representatives, they could send it in written form. Would have no need to hire people to troll the halls of Congress.
The lobby industry has grown for two reasons other than funding campaigns.. The more special access representatives are willing to give or can be manipulated into giving lobbyists, the more incentive there is for an organization to hire a lobbyist or hire more lobbyists. Second, the more organizations with lobbyists, the more other organizations need to hire lobbyists as a defensive measure against the other lobbyists. IOW, this is a positive feedback loop with no upper limit.

Because human beings tend to give more time and consideration to those they know, to trust them more, it’s not surprising that organizations would hire so many former members of Congress and Congressional staffers. Lawrence O’Donnell thinks this is a good thing. Why should taxpayers fund the apprenticeships of future lobbyists? Most of whom will then get big bucks to represent special interests, mostly the interests of corporations, industries and organizations that seek to limit individual rights and freedoms. In my opinion this system does more harm than good for democracy. Any system that is wholly dependent on the ethics of individuals in it to prevent fraud and corruption is a bad system. The fact that the whole lobbying industry is driven by huge amounts of money guarantees that it will be the exceptional individual that retains high ethical standards. Therefore, it’s not worth keeping. Ban the revolving door between public employment and employment as a lobbyist. (It doesn’t matter that some former Hill employees become ethical, responsible lobbyists for “good” organizations. They are the exception. At one time psychotherapists resisted a complete ethical ban on personal relationships between therapist and patient or former patient because there were rare instances of such relationships turning out well. They learned to live with the ban because such exceptions only come into existence in the absence of up front, clearly defined rules.) The ban must also extend to family members.

If members of Congress want or need information from specific organizations, they are free to solicit it. Are free to initiate a meeting with the representative in DC or anywhere else. They should not be free to accept so much as a cup of coffee from the lobbyist. Congressional fact finding missions should be publicly funded and bi-partisan. If they choose to include representatives of any organization in the mission, it should be based on the expertise of the representative, agreed to on a bi-partisan basis and the paid for by the organization. The list of practices that should be banned is long but includes travel on corporate jets, earmarked provisions in legislation and lobbyist election fundraising.
Lobbying is by its nature at odds with a democratic government. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is embedded in how our elected government does business. It cannot be rooted out if the rest of the system remains unchanged. It will find a way to regrow, and like all clipped weeds, will become stronger in the process.

(Once again the DC Democrats have failed to take advantage of a gift from the gods. Just as they did with Schiavo - only worth mentioning because that one was so easy to get right; to line up with the 60% of the country that doesn’t want the government interfering in their personal, end of life decisions. How are we supposed to believe that there is a meaningful difference between Democrats and Republicans when there is no meaningful difference between their respective corruption reform packages? As I‘ve said before, and will undoubtedly say again in the future, Reid and Pelosi are, at best, weak minority leaders.)

Marie :: 12:06 PM :: Comments (8) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!