Lobbying in American Politics
Lobbying, the act of communicating with elected officials in an attempt to influence the outcome of legislation. Often hired by businesses, corporations, and non-profit groups, lobbyist’s have been a staple in American politics since the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. Marred by highly publicized scandals and controversies throughout history, lobbyist’s are often held in contempt by the American people and considered to be a corrupting influence in our nations capital. I am arguing that the use of lobbying is not a cause of corruption in American politics. And that the hiring of lobbyist’s by major corporations has been misrepresented and demonized by the mainstream media, drawing attention away from the real problems in Washington. Also resulting in widespread misunderstanding regarding the function of lobbyist’s as public policy experts and advocates. Political lobbying simply would not exist today if it was detrimental to legislative processes.
Conceding the fact that lobbying does not have an immaculate ethics record in Washington, only a small percentage of the 40, 000 lobbyist’s may participate in illegal practices (Birnbaum, 2005). The most notable instance of a lobbyist taking part in corrupt activities is the case of Jack Abramhoff. Abramhoff, dubbed a “Super Lobbyist” by the media, was convicted of conspiring to bribe public officials, tax evasion, and fraud. More like a successful conman than super lobbyist, Abramhoff’s case has become the gold standard for associating lobbyist’s with corruption. But I would like to look at this from another perspective. Abramhoff went to jail for conspiring to bribe public officials, earning six years for his actions. I agree that what he did was criminal, but when it comes to bribery it takes two to tango. Upon further investigation of Abramhoff’s actions, one member of the House of Representatives and two high ranking White House officials were found to be guilty of accepting bribes and gifts from Abramhoff and lying to investigators (Apollonio 17). It is not lobbyist’s that people should be worried about, but rather the elected officials who chose to take part in corrupt practices. Even if it is the lobbyist offering the bribe, a good politician with the peoples interest at heart wouldn’t think twice about accepting it. In the end it is the elected officials making the decisions, not the lobbyist’s.
Another negatively received aspect of lobbying is the amount of money major corporations spend every year on lobbyist’s in Washington. Misrepresented and demonized by mainstream media, most people will only hear one side of corporate spending on lobbying. For example, according to the Senate Office of Public Records, General Electric spent $32,050,000 on lobbying in 2010. An amount of money that most people could never pay to hire political advocacy. What most people don’t realize is that GE does not represent a single person, according to their website, it is a multinational corporation made up of 304,000 employees. After doing some basic division, the amount GE pays in lobbying per employee is about $105 a year. Which is an understandable amount to pay for professional advocacy. These corporations are not spending this money on behalf of a few high level executives, but for the benefit and prosperity of the entire company and its employees.
This “pay to play” environment fosters much criticism directed toward lobbyist’s. Stating that having to pay lobbyist’s in order to effectively communicate your views to politicians Washington is unfair to the general public. Resulting in a constant demand for lobbying reforms and regulations (Krishnakumar 534). Though the anger over this environment is justified, it is grossly misdirected. What people should really take issue with is the lack of transparency in today’s political climate and the limited means of communicating with our elected officials in Washington. Lobbying may not be the perfect solution to these problems, but for now and for the past 150 years, its has performed as an efficient way to communicate with politicians.
Lobbyist’s have been misconstrued in the public eye to be wheeling and dealing businesses men who are out to monetize our legislative processes (Witkin 374). In reality, lobbyist’s act as public policy experts and even educators to our nations elected officials. Their job consist of knowing the details and effects of every bill pertaining to their client and then some. They must be able to adequately inform policy makers the reasons why or why not they should support a bill. Representative Henry A. Waxman states that, ” lobbyists help us see the full impact of legislation we might adopt”. Lobbyist’s also increase communication between politicians, which is desperately needed in today’s climate of partisan politics.