Influence is as influence does…

The right to petition Congress for the redress of grievance is enshrined in the Constitution, but those who earn their living by exercising that right on behalf of others — lobbyists — are being increasingly vilified.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has made a campaign issue of the “undue influence” of lobbyists in Washington, the implication being that they also have too much influence on rivals like Sen. Hillary Clinton.

John Edwards boasts the he have never taken a contribution from a lobbyist and called on the other candidates to do likewise.

Clinton tried to stand up for the lobbyists at a convention of largely liberal Democrat bloggers — “A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not represent real Americans, they actually do” — and was booed and hissed for her efforts.

According to the AP account of the convention, “Edwards asked crowd members how many of them were represented by lobbyists. A few hands went up, and his point was made.”

Actually, probably all of them were represented in one way or another by lobbyists. Their home states maintain Washington lobbyists and if they live in a big city, the city does as well. The telecommunications, software and Internet companies that support their prized blogosphere have huge lobbying operations in the capital. There are about 35,000 lobbyists in the capital and it would be hard to find a cause that they don’t represent.

But, because lobbyists are by definition supplicants, they are in an ideal position to take the blame for scandals like the Jack Abramoff affair. The recently passed ethics bill puts more of an onus on the lobbyists in keeping Congress clean than it does on Congress itself.

Lobbyists who violate some provisions of the complex new ethics bill face fines of $200,000 and up to five years in prison. The bill does allow lobbyists to treat lawmakers to food of “nominal value” but what does that mean? One interpretation is that it is any good that can be served on a toothpick.

Squiring lawmakers and their aides to golf at St. Andrews in Scotland did happen but it is far from what most lobbyists do. Lobbying is tedious, detail-oriented work that entails hours of sitting in outer offices, standing in hallways and enduring the unique tedium of subcommittee hearings.

As for “undue influence,” most lobbyists can only wish.


  1. Dionysis

    You can’t be serious. “The right to petition Congress for the redress of grievance is enshrined in the Constitution, but those who earn their living by exercising that right on behalf of others — lobbyists — are being increasingly vilified.”

    So, you’re claiming that those poor, downtrodden lobbyists ‘make their living’ by attempting to ‘redress grievances’. Do you expect this fuzzy-brained twaddle to be taken seriously? How about an example of such ‘grievances’? For example, if a lobbyist tries to influence votes to weaken environmental laws to financially benefit the oil industry, is that a ‘grievance’? How about a lobbyist working to reduce their corporation’s tax burden? Is that a legitimate ‘grievance’?

    This has to be one of the most incredible stretching of a word or concept imagineable, to characterize lobbyists as fighters of ‘grievances’.

    Did your brain hurt after coming up with this convoluted nonsense?

  2. mikesloane

    What little the last couple of bills does is restrict the ability (somewhat)of lobbyists to shower our elected representatives in Washington with cash and favors. There is nothing prohibiting them from access to the members of congress. McFeaters seems to have confused “addressing grievances” with “bribery”.

    The other problem with his mindset is that he seems to have confused “citizens” with “special interests” – corporations and industry associations don’t vote.

  3. laudyms

    “redress of grievances” ???

    It is citizens who are aggrieved! Lobbyists scam tax dollars for corporate welfare and direct influence while the PEOPLE get zip and pay the bills.

  4. Arlo J. Thudpucker

    Lobbyists exist to try to influence legislation for the benefit of their employers.

    Smooth, unimpeded access to a congresscritter is prized. Euphemistically named “campaign contributions” are the lubricants of choice.

    In the real world, these payments are known as “bribes”.

    The largest single obstacle a lobbyist faces is the presence of other lobbyists, all vying for the opportunity to stuff cash in the congresscritter’s coffers. With literally hundreds of lobbyists per legislator, the competition can get intense.

    The price of playing poker rises accordingly.

    Constituents can’t compete for the ear of their representative.

    There’s an old saying in Tennessee, or maybe it was Texas, that “Money talks, bullshit walks”.

    We now have representation for the highest bidder.
    We have even seen arrogant, criminal thugs posting bribe prices.

    The real problem is the lack of public campaign financing. As long as there are deep pockets ready to grease elected officials, the corrupt practices will continue.

    A stopgap measure, short of public financing, would be to set up an agency to anonymize contributions. “Anonymizing” is done every day for IP addresses on the net, and a similar technique could be implemented to handle “campaign contributions”.

    Corporations could still “contribute” to the candidate or party of their choice. Lobbyists could still speak.

    This should satisfy everyone, particularly those that equate money with “free speech”.

    By the way, I doubt many can muster up any sympathy at all for lobbyists, with their their six figure incomes and expense accounts.


    Arlo J. Thudpucker