Are All Lobbyists Evil?

6 10 2007

lob·bied, lob·by·ing, lob·bies

Definition: To try to influence the thinking of legislators or other public officials for or against a specific cause: lobbying for stronger environmental safeguards; lobbied against the proliferation of nuclear arms.

Though its fashionable among run of the mill cynics and others to view lobbyists as a group of teeming calculating scoundrels hoping to dupe or pressure members of Congress into supporting legislation that benefits the wealthy and the powerful at the expense of the average citizen, that’s not quite true. Well, at least that’s not true of all of them.

While its certainly true that lobbyists like Jack Abramoff and former Congressmen Tom Delay and Duke Cunningham harnessed the power of the K Street lobby syndicate to exert undue influence in how matters ranging from casino gambling to military contracting, its also true that many people do lobby law makers on the behalf of the public interest.

In the video clip above, Senator Hillary Clinton was right in saying many of Washington lobbyists do represent real people. Surely, no one really believes that the Voting Rights Act, for example, perhaps the most successful civil rights legislation ever, was renewed in 2006 simply because the Bush administration and a Republican controlled Congress felt it was necessary. On the contrary, it was done through a coalition of groups from the AARP to the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund.

Similar coalitions, and often with unlikely allies, also form to pressure Congress not merely to consider passing certain laws, but to make sure they are actually crafted in an informed manner. To pass the Matthew Shephard Act, an anti-hate crimes measure attached as amendment to a defense spending bill, a grand coalition of faith, disability, civil libertarian groups, LGBT, and even police advocacy groups spoke with one voice to not just make it law, but good law. And to do so, lawmakers had to consult people representing those who would be most affected by the bill. Many of those people were lobbyists.

Now of course accepting money from lobbyists is something quite different, especially corporate cash. If Sen. Clinton, simply said many of the campaign contributions she accepts are mainly from lobbyists representing unions, public advocacy groups and so on, it would not have been so much of a big deal.

Emphasizing the fact that corporations employee lots of people as a reason to accept their money just does not sound compelling. Nor does it sound believable to say that they do not influence your voting record even if it is true. People give money or decide to support politicians precisely because they want to influence them and the political process. That’s the point of lobby as Obama argues in the following clip.

To his credit, Sen. Obama he did not go after Sen. Clinton per se in accepting corporate cash in the clip above he merely reminded her that it was the corporate health care lobby and other lawmakers who blocked the Clinton administration’s efforts to provide health care for all Americans in the early 1990s. While Sen. Clinton probably did not need to be reminded of that fact, Sen. Obama made a subtle point here that many people overlooked.

Obama was also making the case that while those lobbyists may not have influenced Clinton they most likely influenced other Members of Congress to vote one way or another. So, even if we give her the benefit of the doubt, we must concede that the system is rigged and that it’s exploited by the powerful and the wealthy, with those who lobby in the public’s interest playing an influential but an increasingly marginalized role. That was the real problem that many of the bloggers in that convention center hall in Chicago wanted Hillary to acknowledge.

I just wished either Clinton, Obama, or Edwards instead of giving the red meat lines to the bloggers at that debate, articulated what the proper role of lobbyists is in the political process and why not all of them are evil.




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