Can the lobbying system be fixed?
- Britannica defines lobbying as “any attempt by individuals or private interest groups to influence the decisions of government.”
- According to opensecrets.org, the biggest spenders for lobbying in 2022 were The US Chamber of Commerce, The National Association of Realtors, and Pharmaceutical Researchers & Manufacturers of America.
- The act of lobbying dates back to 1640s England, “when the lobbies of the chambers of the British Parliament were a hotbed for political wrangling.” The first lobbyist in the US was William Hull, hired by the Virginia veterans of the Continental Army in 1792 to try to get them more compensation.
- For every dollar large companies spend lobbying, they get an average of $760 in federal support and tax savings. Their “Return On Investment For Lobbying” (or ROIFL) is 76,000%. After leaving Congress, around 50% of senators and 42% of representatives become lobbyists. Those members of Congress who become lobbyists then see their salaries increase on average to 1,452%.
Lobbying is a valid functional platform for private and public interest to present complex issues to elected officials. Elected officials have limited channels to their constituents and do not have the bandwidth to handle the many facets of complicated matters. Town halls, meetings in congressional offices, phone calls, etc., are not enough to absorb in-depth subjects in which the elected officials are not fully involved. At its core, lobbying is a method of educating elected representatives on the critical issues held by their constituents. While there is nothing inherently wrong with lobbying, a valid common sentiment is that even though the system is regulated, it is still unfairly biased toward corporate interests and deep pockets that seek unfair influence with politicians.
However, lobbying is not biased and can reasonably allow competing interests to influence and educate policymakers. The system should be adapted to serve both rich and poor voices. One way would be for regulation to require equal time for politicians to give to business and private interest groups. Another would be for lobbyist organizations to be required to represent both sides of a given interest or topic. Lastly, lobbyists should be prohibited from writing or providing suggestions for laws for lawmakers, which happens under the guise that the lobbyist represents the public interest.
Lobbying can serve the public interest in raising elected representatives’ awareness of important topics and giving a collective voice to the private interests that are limited in their access to public officials by their own checkbook.
If we lend any credence to Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of our government as “for the people, by the people,” then the lobbying system in America offers no hope of being reformed. Politicians begin their careers by being heavily funded by the special interests who can most afford significant campaign contributions (and money talks when it comes to being elected). Their careers come under the influence of the same special interests, so much so that the New York Times reported in one case that “Citigroup’s recommendations were reflected in more than 70 lines of the House committee’s 85-line bill. Two crucial paragraphs, prepared by Citigroup in conjunction with other Wall Street banks, were copied nearly word for word.”
Even at the end of politicians’ careers, they may well be offered lucrative deals lobbying for the same special interests. For example, according to The Nation, “Former Congressman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) made $19,359,927 as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies between 2006 and 2010.” And the most powerful lobbies come from corporations whose aims often contradict those of the people. Consider, for example, the issue of gun control. Politicians influenced by the gun lobby continue to refuse to legislate stricter controls even though NPR recently reported, “A Pew Research Center survey conducted in September found that 60% of Americans say gun laws should be tougher.”
Attempts to regulate lobbying have thus far done little to stem the flow of money from corporate coffers to political pockets. Greed finds a way.