Lobbying


"Last week a scandal in the halls of power exposed the ugly role of lobbying in US politics and threatened to bring down some of the biggest names in public life. The man at the centre is Jack Abramoff, Washington's lobbyist extraordinaire, who pleaded guilty last week to criminal charges and fleecing his clients. The plea means he will be naming names in an influence-peddling scandal that runs all the way to the White House. But Mr. Abramoff's operations are the tip of the iceberg. "We shouldn't be fooled into thinking that lobbyist corruption has been nipped in the bud with Abramoff's confessions," said Frank Clemente, director of the watchdog group Public Citizen...

"The case has put a rare spotlight on the entire lobbying system, and some of Washington's most powerful men are running for cover. They stretch from President Bush to top Republican officials to senior congressmen from both parties...

"The real story is that he represents how much of Washington works. That system is fuelled by two things: money and lobbyists. "Make no mistake: Abramoff is a crook. But crooks like Abramoff can only flourish in an environment where lobbyists and their clients offer lawmakers campaign contribtuions and gifts," said Mr. Clemente.

"There are believed to be more than 30,000 lobbyists in Washington, outnumbering elected federal politicians by almost 60 to one. The money they deal in tops $2bn a year. The US constitution is often praised for its checks and balances between the president, Congress, and the judiciary. But where money equals power, no one predicted the unofficial fourth branch of US government: K Street...

"Drug makers are the biggest lobbyers, spending $681m in the six years up to 2004 and employing 3,000 lobbyists. The investment paid off in 2003 with the passing of a bill to provide taxpayer-funded drug prescriptions for the elderly. Many critics attacked it as a giveaway to Big Pharma. One study predicted drug firms would reap $139bn in extra profits from the legislation...

"Many believe only legislation will bring real reform, but it has been tried beforre. For reformers, the salutary tale of Congressman Dick Zimmer stands out. He was an anti-lobby hero in 1995 when he tried to push through the Revolving Door Act to curb the ability of those leaving office to cash in on contacts and flock to the lobbying industry. But the bill was defeated and six years later Mr Zimmer left politics. He became a lobbyist. K Street had won again" (Paul Harris. "Capital Hill's Dirty Secrets." Guardian Weekly, Jan 13, 2006: 7).


"Voters are not going to get very excited about a reform agenda that lacks meaningful campaign finance reforms, including voluntary public financing for federal candidates who agree to raise no private money and abide by spending limits.

"Public financing is essential, as it signals a recognition that Congress has been corrupted not by Abramoff but by the steady flow of corporate campaign contributions that provide lobbyists with the muscle to influence members of both partiees to such an extent that those who are supposed to be regulated are writing the rules--literally. That, and not the details of Abramoff's dirty dealing, is what Americans think of when they hear the term "culture of corruption." And only by promising to change that culture, with ethics and campaign finance reforms designed to dramatically reduce the ability of corporate interests to call the tune in Washington, will Democrats get to hearing from the great mass of Americans who believe that both parties are compromised" ("Editorials." The Nation, Jan. 30, 2006: 3).


Colby Glass, MLIS