I realize that millions of dollars have been spent over many years to make the word "lobbyist" almost as dirty a word as "profit". Anti-capitalists hate both and have done a magnificent job of demonizing both. But in case you have an interest in knowing the facts, I thought someone should point out that "lobbyists" are nothing more or less than paid messengers.
Not so long ago, government had no role in business, free enterprise, free market economics, employment or trade. Once government chose to insert itself in all aspects of our now not-so-free economics, business groups were forced to communicate with law makers who would establish regulations which dramatically affect their business interests.
Our system of government has 100 Senators and 435 House Representatives. Our nation has millions of small, medium and large businesses which employ tens of millions of average Americans, all of whom are directly impacted by policies made in Washington DC. Millions of business leaders can not meet with 535 law makers and many wouldn't know what to say or how to say it even if they could.
But because they know that policies made in Washington DC will directly impact their livelihood at home, they must find a way to communicate their concerns and interests to those policy makers and that process is called "lobbying". There are many other types of lobbyists as well, such as the pro and anti-abortion lobbies, the pro-gay rights and the traditional family values lobbies. There is both a pro-amnesty and an anti-amnesty lobby concerning illegal immigration, as an example.
Lobbyists get paid for their access to policy makers and their ability to carry a message to policy makers effectively. The better they are at carrying that message, the more they are worth and the more they are paid. It's no different than a messenger who carries a company's message to consumers via advertising and marketing techniques. The more effective the marketing campaign, the better the product sells and the more valuable the messenger.
In addition, we now live in a world economy. Many products produced in America are sold to other countries and many products produced off shore are consumed in America. Again, Washington DC makes policy regulating those transactions and as a result, foreign companies doing business with America have a vested interest in the policies being made. They need someone who can effectively communicate with, carry a message to, policy makers. They need a "lobbyist".
This practice is almost as old as democracy itself. Business lobbyists have existed since the day government intruded into the free market system and began making policies designed to regulate trade and the economic system. In and of itself, it is an appropriate, necessary, legal and ethical profession.
It becomes inappropriate, illegal and unethical when the message is damaging to America or the American people, when the methods being used to effect change are unethical or illegal and certainly when politicians corrupt the process by seeking personal gain. It's an unacceptable problem when politicians become personally wealthy via the process and that's where we are today.
But in case you think this is some partisan culture of corruption problem, think again. It might be the only thing in Washington DC that isn't really a partisan issue at all.
According to reports from OpenSecrets.org, an organization that accumulates and reports campaign finance trends based upon official FEC filings, lobbyists invest equally in the two primary political parties', tilting only slightly in favor of Democrats.
In their Long-Term Lobby Contribution Trends Report covering election cycles from 1990 through 2006, lobbyists invested more than $118 million with Washington policy makers, 51% with Democrats and 49% with Republicans. If lobbying represents a "culture of corruption," both parties are members and Democrats have at least a 2 point advantage in that culture.
The Top 20 congressional recipients of lobbyist funds in 2006 reads like a who's who list of high-powered officials from both parties, 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
Because Democrats have worked so hard to convince American voters that Republicans represent some culture of corruption in terms of campaign funding from lobbyists seeking access, the most notable names on the list of Top 20 recipients are Clinton, Hillary (D-NY), who was the top Democrat recipient of lobbyist funds in 2006, followed by Nelson, Bill (D-FL), Nelson, Ben (D-NE), Murtha, John P (D-PA), Conrad, Kent (D-ND), Menendez, Robert (D-NJ), Kennedy, Edward M (D-MA), Cantwell, Maria (D-WA) and Ford, Harold E Jr (D-TN), all of whom have attempted to demonize both lobbyists and Republicans in recent years.
Of course, this in no way lets Republican law makers off the hook. It simply demonstrates a basis for this column. The notion that Washington lobbyists prefer Republicans is obviously not true, a reality easy to prove if you simply follow the money as I have here.
The point is this; although the Democrat culture of corruption campaign mantra was very successful in demonizing Republican members of Congress and lobbyists in the 2006 election cycle, the Democrat campaign rhetoric was in fact a fraud perpetrated upon American voters.
Lobbying is a necessary, honest profession. But not all who practice that profession are decent or honest, and the politicians who seek personal gain or wealth by selling access to their elected office have clearly crossed a line that should never be crossed, no matter their party affiliation.
In typical Washington form, law makers who have stuffed their personal pockets with lobby money for years now direct voters to shoot the messenger, the lobbyist. They hope the average voter never comes to the realization that no amount of money can buy a politician who isn't for sale... or that so long as we elect politicians who are for sale, someone will come along and buy them.
In addition, voters must realize that the campaign finance reform bill known as McCain-Feingold, intended to end soft money in politics, resulted in the biggest unethical campaign finance bonanza in world history via unregulated 527 Committees. Guess which national party benefits most from the 527 groups designed to circumvent campaign finance reform? Right, Democrats.
Is Washington a culture of campaign corruption? You bet! But a partisan matter? You must be kidding!
Those seeking to saddle one party or the other with the title of culture of corruption would have to attach that name to the Democrat Party based on the numbers alone. Democrats are by far the primary beneficiaries of both lobbyist and 527 campaign sludge money. Republicans run a distant second in the overall field of unethical campaign financing.
Voters must understand that the numbers don't lie, even when the politicians do. Keep this in mind as you listen to politicians attack the messengers who made them rich.
Copyright ©2007 J.B. Williams