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Nirek On June - 19 - 2014

90th United States Congress

Lobbying has become a dirty word to many Americans. I know I find myself cursing lobbyists for the XL pipeline, the gun makers, coal, oil, and many others.

When it started it may have been a good thing. Today, not so much.

The history of lobbying in the United States is a chronicle of the rise of paid advocacy generally by special interests seeking favor in lawmaking bodies such as the United States Congress. While lobbying has usually been understood as activity by paid professionals to try to influence key legislators and executives, it has been around since the early days of the Republic, and affects every level of government from local municipal authorities to the federal government in Washington. In the nineteenth century, lobbying was mostly conducted at the state level, but in the twentieth century, there has been a marked rise in activity, particularly at the federal level in the past thirty years. While lobbying has generally been marked by controversy, there have been numerous court rulings protecting lobbying as free speech.”

Really? Free speech?

Is lobbying free speech? Or is it legal bribery?

In the Progressive Era from the 1880s to the 1920s, reformers frequently blamed lobbyists as corrupting politics.”

I think that lobbying has evolved to something the founders did not intend it to be.

Lobbyists, who used to focus on persuading lawmakers after election, began to assist congresspersons with reelection fundraising, often via political action committees or PACs. A lobbyist for a cooperative of many businesses could form these relatively new types of organizations to supervise the distribution of monies to the campaigns of “favored members of Congress”.

Corporate PACs became prominent quickly until today when they could be described as ubiquitous. There have been reports that the influence of money, in general, has “transformed American politics”.

My quotes are from the following  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_lobbying_in_the_United_States   There is a lot more to read if you want to.

Lobbying for a good cause is fine with me. Lobbying by corporations and the military I feel is wrong. It would be okay if it was done without “legal bribes” Congressmen/women are wined and dined by these corporations just for their vote on a certain Bill that is helpful to the corporation.

“Congresspersons seeking reelection were able to win easily in most cases since rules regarding gerrymandering and franking privileges usually favored incumbents rather than challengers; several studies found that the probability of congresspersons winning reelection was consistently over 90%. Congress made the rules, including ones about free mailings. Congresspersons could give themselves generous pensions and benefits packages, and could determine the salaries of members; in 2006, salaries were $165,200.”

If lobbying were fair and honest a lobbyist would give a presentation to make his point and move on. No money or favors of any kind would come into it. That way every lobbyist would get a chance to make their case, no matter who is represented or how much money that entity has.

As with most of my posts, this is my opinion. We can discuss it and you might be able to sway me from how I feel. Don’t count on it though.

Written by Nirek

Proud progressive Vietnam Vet against WAR! Can't stomach chickenhawks.

30 Responses so far.

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  1. funksands says:

    Nirek, like anything else, lobbying is fine in moderate doses. I think any citizen or organization should be able to contact, pressure, advocate it’s Congress for its wishes.

    That said, it needs to be supervised, regulated and utterly transparent.

    The biggest thing that needs to change is that any Congressman, cabinet official or high-ranking federal official should be completely prohibited from taking any position directly OR indirectly with a lobbying firm for the rest of their natural lives. You may serve the American People or you may serve your organization/individual interest but you may not serve both.

    Right now, for many, Congress is simply a resume enhancer that is designed to be a job interview for a far more lucrative position afterwards.

    This is one of the cancers that eats at our democracy.

    There are other solutions I would employ, but this 1 rule alone may proscribe the need for further action.

  2. SearingTruth says:

    “It was determined that the rich would live comfortably.

    And those who served them would weep.”

    A Future of the Brave

  3. SearingTruth says:

    “Simple bribery of elected representatives.

    And denial of justice.

    One of the oldest tragedies innocents have been forever forced to endure.

    We need not argue its detail.

    Only its plague, risen again.”

    A Future of the Brave

  4. SearingTruth says:

    “Public finance of public elections is the only just practice, and solution.

    None above, or below, another.”

    A Future of the Brave

    • Nirek says:

      Absolutely!, ST

      • SearingTruth says:

        Gentle friend Nirek, I believe the base funding of every election should be equal, and anyone who can acquire the mandated number of signatures should be eligible for base funding.

        After that I believe each person (even Corporate Persons), should be limited to $20 donations max.

        That will allow for true free speech, as the Supreme Court has demanded.

        “We discovered that we were once again separate, but not equal.”

        A Future of the Brave

        • Nirek says:

          ST, I agree if you say “citizens” and include only American citizens. No multinational corporations should be able to donate to candidates. They are not US citizens.

          • SearingTruth says:

            Indeed gentle friend Nirek, that’s why I included the reference in parenthesis.

            It was part in jest, but also a reminder that even “they” couldn’t spend more than $20.

            Elections should be about ideas, not influence.

            “So much we have lost. So much we have surrendered.

            I wonder if we have lost and surrendered everything.”

            A Future of the Brave

  5. monicaangela says:

    Lobbying is a very lucrative business. But for some it’s more than very lucrative: It’s million-dollar lucrative.

    Between 1998 and 2012, 799 lobbyists working at Washington firms have been associated with $1 million or more in annual revenue at least once (in constant 2012 dollars). And between 1998 and 2010, the number of million-dollar firm lobbyists increased almost four-fold, from 71 to 277. That number, however, has declined since then, falling back to 207 in 2012.

    Read this article from the Sunlight Foundation:


  6. MurphTheSurf3 says:

    Lobbying Reform

    Sunlight is advocating for the Lobbyist Disclosure Enhancement Act. Introduced in June by Rep. Mike Quigley, this legislation would significantly increase public knowledge of influence wielding in Washington. The legislation would require lobbyists to disclose the names of covered executive branch officials or Members of Congress lobbied (or the name of the employer if the lobbyist meets with staff), the dates of the meetings, and the issues discussed. The bill would also close a loophole in who needs to report -- a loophole which currently allows some of the most powerful players in Washington to engage in lobbying activities with no disclosure. The bill also significantly speeds disclosure of new registrations, reduces delays in reporting of lobbyists’ contributions, and strengthens enforcement mechanisms.

    Sunlight is also advocating for legislators to change lobbying rules so that the public has real-time, online information about who is influencing policy decisions on Capitol Hill. Please read and comment on Sunlight’s legislative proposal, The Real-Time Online Lobbying Disclosure Act on PublicMarkup.org. We’d love to have your thoughts and input during this process.


    • Nirek says:

      Murph, thanks so much for propping up my post with the info and link. I must say our folks here at the Planet are a wealth of good information.

  7. choicelady says:

    Guess what? I am a registered lobbyist. Yup. I work for a non profit doing advocacy on a wide range of human rights and justice issues. We all -- non-profit and for-profit -- have to take the same ethics courses every two years, and in our state there are major limitations on us as people. The limits are not so grave upon our employers, however -- they can make campaign contributions. We personally cannot. I rather like it -- saves me a bundle every election year and allows me to tell dunning callers for candidates that I can’t talk with them. Nice that.

    I have written laws. That in itself is not a sin. It is that such items we proffer are vetted, changed, altered, and put forward with clear “sponsorship” of our name. Not always clear if it’s Chevron…

    States tend to have much more strict controls than do the feds. And yes, it comes down to money. Our state Fair Political Practices Commission requires quarterly revelations on every single dime we put forward. I have some beef with the limits on taking people out to dinner -- that is not and never has been the way people are ‘bought’. It’s the trips, the behested donations to fave charities, the game tickets, etc. that are the serious problem. That’s where the big money can be spent so long as it’s declared, and it’s hard to see how a dinner outweighs that.

    Here in my state legislators are barred for a year from lobbying, staffers the same. It seems to help.

    But here is the biggie -- over the 12 years I’ve been mobilizing ordinary people to do grassroots advocacy, that, more than any factor, has been the creation of good legislation that trumps money any day of the week. We are a seriously underfunded organization that has transformed significant legislation with the voices of people from around the state. No money at all. We beat the crap out of the soft drink companies, we beat Big Oil three times over, we were the forces behind the success of ACA federally, and we have triumphed over the auto industry on the state’s Clean Air Act.

    Yes the power of people almost always wins. Lobbyists for the big money forces cannot hold a candle to the power of the people WHEN THEY ACT. Money wins in silence and lack of opposition. Money almost always loses when diverse groups unite around a common cause and the people speak.

    We definitely need laws federally that are at least as good as good state laws. But we don’t have to wait. I have seen the power of people and its tidal wave of success when people unite and speak out. THAT is the thing that we cannot stop doing. Even as a lobbyist I have little impact until around the state our members and their allies rise. Then we are unstoppable.

    Only way money wins is to be silent or gripe exclusively on blog sites. Way money loses is when we speak out, get persistent, keep advocating. Democracy is NOT a spectator sport.

    • Nirek says:

      CL, thanks for clarifying what lobbyists do. I still am not convinced that the BIG money lobbyists don’t get their way. Dinners are one thing but those
      trips, donations, and game tickets should be outlawed.

      I knew when I wrote this piece that most lobbyists are good and decent people. There are some who do not follow their ethics training, just the same as most jobs. It is the unethical lobbyists that give lobbyists a bad name.

      • choicelady says:

        Nirek -- there is a world of difference between state and federal laws governing lobbying, and that’s why what you write is important. No matter how much certain states work to control things at that level, there are almost no restrictions nationally in DC.

        I think it MIGHT be an overstatement to say most of us are good and decent! The role of non profits is powerful but not at the federal level. We serve there as a counterbalance, but it’s much, much tougher to see the influence. Common Cause was the first ‘citizens’ lobby and we have proliferated, so when you read there are 10-20 lobbyists per elected official that’s GOOD because it includes us. However, we are seriously outnumbered.

        We are definitely outspent.

        Yes the rules must be tightened, but until we overturn Citizens United AND the Merconish decision on publicly funded elections, the trickle down to lobbyists will abide. Money here will be ‘free speech’ as well. I probably don’t help noting the power of citizen action -- that’s the justification -- but it DOES happen at state levels. It also was the force nationally behind ACA -- a deeply UN-reported story. So we can offset the big bucks, but it takes constant unrelenting action, and it’s an uphill climb. How much easier is it to dump $10K on someone than to mobilize 10,000 individuals?

        Your report is accurate, but I still know lobbying and campaign cash cannot offset entirely the will of people. It’s just that we can keep this up only so long and really should not have to fight our elected officials to assure they do the right thing. THAT is what needs to be reformed.

        BTW the election of Kevin McCarthy as House Majority Leader means one more doofus in power who never found a dollar he did not love. Gag.

        • Nirek says:

          CL, thanks. I almost thought I hurt you and I don’t want to hurt you or anyone. All good things you point out.
          Thanks again.

          • choicelady says:

            Good lord, no! I think your piece is excellent -- I’m just reminding people we are NOT powerless (not even in DC) and have resources ahead of major reform we can and must use.

            Nobody can EVER pillory lobbyists enough because the ones who are shilling for corporations are often incredibly vile. We must have the reforms you recommend. I’m definitely in agreement on all you said. Except may taking people to dinner…anyone who can be bought for that alone is beyond hope!

  8. Nirek says:

    This Bill would go a long way to making lobbying more fair.

    “Current law allows senators to become lobbyists two years after leaving office, while House members only have to wait for a year. But Bennet and Tester’s bill would institute a lifetime ban on lobbying for lawmakers.”

    Too much money is involved in lobbying.

    • RSGmusic says:

      HI Nirek,

      You have made a very good article. NO problem with your opinions.
      Even though i am a retired oil company of 35 yrs and retired at 56 now but retired 3 yrs ago, one of the largest in the world.

      a couple of solution i can think of:

      wine-ING and dining should be paid for by the congressman own personal money. Any money donated should go to pay of the principal of the national debt. Ever single one form now on for 2 hundred yrs.

      They already have made their point to the congressman or Senator.

      live long and prosper!!

  9. pinkpantheroz says:

    I, for one, Nirek am disgusted at the power that lobbyists hold over the ‘poor’ politicians. I had thought that POTUS had banned lobbyists from anyone on legislative committees and the White House, but it appears that, in addition to lobbying, these bozos are actually doing the politicians work for them by handing them pre-prepared pieces of legislation, slanted, naturally,towards their clients. Talk about the inmates running the asylum! The pollies are terrified that they might be forced to actually DO something for their salaries, that they might lose re-election funding ( the very reason for a politicians existence, they think!), or lose patronage of the rich and powerful. Note there’s not a word here on doing anything of benefit to the 99%ers of the USA. The only ones of those that matter are the voters in their own District dumb enough to believe that he actually works for them on Capital Hill. Don’t forget, the Advertising he needs to run to maintain that myth is expensive! The problem is that this corruption is so entrenched in the Beltway that nothing much in the way of reform is likely to ever happen, because it is on both sides of the Aisle. So we need someone with huge cojones to be the first to say, ENOUGH!

    • Nirek says:

      PPO, I wish I had written “Talk about the inmates running the asylum! The pollies are terrified that they might be forced to actually DO something for their salaries, that they might lose re-election funding ( the very reason for a politicians existence, they think!), or lose patronage of the rich and powerful.” You are a great wordsmith. And a great person, my friend.

    • choicelady says:

      PBO can keep them out of the White House though it’s fine to have representatives speak their mind so long as all sides get equal time, IMHO. But the GOP especially during the Clinton years invited them into congressional offices to WRITE bills favorable to their industries and employers.

      I’ve written bills, too. Many citizens do that, lobbyists or no. But we have clear disclosure as ‘sponsors’ here in CA. When the big guys do it, we don’t know who they are because they don’t become sponsors. There was one Dem Assembly Member who pimped for corporations, and she cost herself her own political future doing so. It was her bill that got overturned in Prop. 39 voters passed 18 months ago. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving witch.

      By and large, CA is pretty clear on who’s who doing what. It’s the national level where sponsorship and language provisions in bills is very murky. Yes, it’s always been that way (see the film, “Lincoln” for the best examples of bribery and favors I’ve ever seen.) But it doesn’t have to BE that way. We can change it if we collectively have the political will.

      But then, when you challenge Citizens United that does let lobbyists shovel the cash via phony non profits, you get the Ted Cruzes of the world saying we’re trying to abolish ‘free speech’. Sigh. No use quitting, but do note what we’re up against.

      “Corporations are people, my friend” my ass.

      • Nirek says:

        CL, corporations are made up of people but they are NOT people they are corporations. Most big corporations are multinational corporations so cannot be US citizens. Therefore they should not be able to influence our congressmen/women or senators.

        Citizens united was the worst thing the SP ever did.

        • choicelady says:

          Totally agree about Citizens United. What is jaw droppingly awful for me is that it rests very thinly on “Southern Pacific RR v Santa Clara County” a previous SCOTUS decision from 1886. It has always been the foundation for seeing corporations as ‘fictitious persons’ but in fact does not say that at all.

          The issue of ‘fictitious personhood’ lies in a NOTE written by a clerk filing the decision not in the decision itself.

          The SCOTUS judges from Citizens United should know this but chose to ignore that issue. Yes corporations can and probably should have some independent standing separate from the shareholders. There is a reason to limit liability of the corporation TO the corporation and not to widows and orphans who might have a little stock. No good would come from their losing their homes, bank savings, etc. and taking on personal liability for the actions of a company. It is sufficient for them to lose the value of the stock, period.

          That said -- there is a humongous gulf to be lept between a ‘fictitious person’ in corporate form and giving said fictitious person RIGHTS that pertain to NON business actions. Corporations cannot vote, are not citizens, and, as you wisely note, are often so multinational you cannot unpack WHERE that ‘citizenship’ would lie.

          All round stupid decision based on legal precedent that actually does not exist.

    • Nirek says:

      PPO, you make good points in my mind. Most of the politicians do nothing but campaign. Now you say they are allowing the lobbyists to write the Bills? CL said she has done that, too. I wonder why we don’t get rid of the middle man and have the lobbyists do the job ? Cut the expense of congress paychecks.

      Or cut the lobbyists from doing the congress’s job. Just an idea.

      • choicelady says:

        Well any citizen can PROFFER a bill including me. The issue really is accountability. I don’t do this alone but with allies seeking to make things better -- and we bring ideas to legislators sometimes in lawfully crafted form. But the author MUST take note of who is behind the bill, not just as a ‘sign on’ but as a ‘sponsor’ and since that is not required, we, the people, take full responsibility while corporations just rock back and forth whistling in the wind pretending it wasn’t them.

        In many cases those who want a bill also are those with deep knowledge. I would hasten to say most government reform bills have been written by government reform advocates such as Common Cause or Clean Money. No legislator can handle all that without insights from citizen groups. But it is also VERY CLEAR who is behind the bill. THAT is important, and that’s what corporations don’t have to own up to.

        The bills the lobbyists wrote in the 1990s are also different in that they were about their companies -- they were regulatory bills. I don’t have anything much TO regulate in my organization, but that is where corporate sponsorship should be banned. You can’t write bills as a lobbyist that favor your own company or interest. That’s just wrong. That we could end quickly were we so inclined.

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