Surprise! Lobbying Grows Right Along With Government

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Cato’s David Boaz catches a Naderite speaking the truth:

“…the amount spent on lobbying . . . is related entirely to how much the federal government intervenes in the private economy.”

It’s a fairly obvious point, yet it flies in the face of two consistent leftist policy goals (or at least stated leftist policy goals): more federal involvement in the economy, and less influence on the federal government by lobbyists. Not surprisingly, health care interests are doing the most active lobbying right now, just as Congress and Obama are pushing a major overhaul of the health care system. As Boaz notes, lobbying firms are already salivating at the coming windfall over the climate change debate.

All this money the private sector is spending to influence how the laws are written is money not spent on developing new business plans, R&D, or otherwise contributing to the broader economy (though it does contribute to D.C.’s). It’s part of the cost of major new government initiatives that isn’t generally considered.

I think lobbyists get a bad rap. Sure, most of them are spineless and unprincipled. That doesn’t make them any different than most people in Washington. But I can’t begrudge anyone who wants to spend $1 million to prevent the government from enacting laws or regulations that are going to cost his business $10 million. Everyone wants to denigrate lobbyists. But they’re really only conduits between the governing and the governed. If there’s something sleazy about what they do, it’s because politicians and policymakers apparently respond to sleaziness. Lobbyists exist because the government has put power on the table to be divvied up in the first place. The way to reduce the influence of lobbyists in government is to reduce the influence of government everywhere else. Nothing else is going to work.

Of course, that’s never going to happen. So instead, the solution from both parties, though it’s generally more supported by Democrats, is to restrict the right of individuals, groups, or businesses to have a say in how the government operates, be it through campaign finance restrictions or stricter lobbying rules. Put another way, they want to pass unconstitutional laws limiting political speech so they can better pass unconstitutional expansions of government power that aren’t tainted by the appearance of impropriety.

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43 Responses to “Surprise! Lobbying Grows Right Along With Government”

  1. #1 |  Nick T | 

    “restrict the right of individuals, groups, or businesses to have a say in how the government operates, be it through campaign finance restrictions or stricter lobbying rules”

    Except they don’t even really care to do this. By the end it’s just a bunch of weird rules that *seem* like they’ve taken *some* money out of politics but they’ve really done nothing but help their friends and protect their own power.

  2. #2 |  billy-jay | 

    I’m still curious as to why you aren’t an anarchist (at least in theory), Radley.

  3. #3 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I have always contended that campaign finance control measures always treat the symptom and not the disease. The only really effective way to reduce the money that flows to candidates during a campaign is to cut back on their power to grant favors in return for those contributions (by enforcing the Constitution, for example).

    The state and federal governments are in the business of selling favors. That’s what they do. They do it regardless of whether they are Republicans or Democrats.

    The need the money for two reasons:

    1. They like money.
    2. Money is needed to guarantee they’ll be reelected.

    And you’re right. It’s not the fault of the lobbyists. The politicians make the rules. The lobbyists have no power to change the rules. They simply play the game.

  4. #4 |  Reggie Hubbard | 

    Those last two paragraphs are just about the most rational things I’ve read about the lobbyist issue. Very well written.

    It’s a shame the only places to see something untainted by politicking are blogs… and barely any of them are worthwhile.

  5. #5 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I wouldn’t characterize lobbyists as simply providing “conduits between the governing and the governed”. They serve only special interests. If you’re a mere citizen with no lobbying representation, you’re fucked. You have no voice in government.

    Even if you are connected with a special interest, government still has no incentive to serve you as a private citizen.

    Consider the current health care reform (or is it insurance reform, now?) legislation under consideration. What lobbying group represents those ordinary health care consumers who are supposedly the primary beneficiaries of that legislation? Or are we all just supposed to rely on the conscience of the politicians?

  6. #6 |  Marty | 

    ‘I think lobbyists get a bad rap. Sure, most of them are spineless and unprincipled. That doesn’t make them any different than most people in Washington.’

    perfect!

  7. #7 |  Taktix® | 

    Power is the problem. If congress critters didn’t have all the power to provide favors, lobbyists wouldn’t pay the money.

    No campaign finance reform will ever work until that simple fact is addressed.

  8. #8 |  anne | 

    This is such a well worded post, I just sent a copy to myself and I am going to use it in my government classes to use in the interest group unit. You rock – keep up the good work!

  9. #9 |  Patter-holio | 

    Patterico. Just. Can’t. Quit. You.

  10. #10 |  Zargon | 

    The system offers up enormous chunks of power to politicians with connections & money. We call this getting elected. The politicians then turn around and sell slices of that power for money. We call this lobbying.

    It’s really a very simple process, and so long as there’s any power being sold wholesale to politicians, there will always be opportunities to sell slices of that power for huge profits to both parties.

    Reducing the power being offered up by the system to the politicians for winning the connections & money contest sure would be nice, but the politicians themselves decide how much power the system gives them.

    The probability of some politicians waking up and deciding to allocate themselves less power, thereby reducing their opportunities to sell that power is exactly zero. You might as well sit around hoping people will reduce inflation by flushing their money down the toilet.

  11. #11 |  pegr | 

    But it takes power to remove power. There is no way out of this circumstance apart from starting over, and business interests likie to get what they pay for, so that, too, is highly unlikely.

    Meanwhile, I’ll continue to vote third-party and hope for the best.

  12. #12 |  CTD | 

    I think it was Warren Meyer over at CoyoteBlog.com that said, roughly “The return on investment corporations and other interested parties get from lobbying are similar to those found in the narcotics trade. And you see how successful we’ve been in stopping that.”

  13. #13 |  flukebucket | 

    “The return on investment corporations and other interested parties get from lobbying are similar to those found in the narcotics trade. And you see how successful we’ve been in stopping that.”

    Exactly.

  14. #14 |  scott in phx az | 

    I’m glad that you pointed out the the WRONG solution is “more supported by the left”.

    wonder what you thought you would be getting as you “rooted for Obama”?

  15. #15 |  Fluffy | 

    Can someone explain this whole “what Fluffy said” thing to…Fluffy, me?

    Everything in the post linked to by Patterico is Radley vs. Patterico. I’ve only ever commented on two posts at his blog [one of which was the guest blog by Dunphy] so I’m not sure what the source of my new legend here is.

  16. #16 |  flukebucket | 

    wonder what you thought you would be getting as you “rooted for Obama”?

    I’m glad he rooted for Obama. Hell I voted for Obama. The alternative was McCain / Palin.

    It was gonna be one or the other and I do not believe and cannot be convinced that McCain / Palin would have been a better choice.

  17. #17 |  JS | 

    Fluffy Check out post 104 here: http://www.theagitator.com/2009/07/29/response-to-patterico-and-jack-dunphy/#comments

  18. #18 |  scott in phx az | 

    f-bucket,

    if at this point you can still say Obama was the better choice than McCain/Palin (whom I KNEW of course was the lesser of 2 evils) then I believe there is no reason for you to pay attention to any of this. you should find something else to occupy your time.

  19. #19 |  Chance | 

    I think lobbyists get a bad rap. Sure, most of them are spineless and unprincipled. That doesn’t make them any different than most people in Washington.

  20. #20 |  Tokin42 | 

    Fluffy, You should be proud. either “what fluffy said..” or “Go Fuck Yourself” would be great names for a new blog.

  21. #21 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #17 JS

    Fluffy Check out post 104 here: http://www.theagitator.com/2009/07/29/response-to-patterico-and-jack-dunphy/#comments

    So…

    “What Fluffy said” = “Go fuck yourselves” :)

  22. #22 |  JS | 

    lol Fluffy rocks!

  23. #23 |  BamBam | 

    Everyone wants to denigrate lobbyists. But they’re really only conduits between the governing and the governed.

    I have to disagree here. Lobbyists are the conduit between the governing and the corporations. The governed, which means Joe Average Citizen, doesn’t factor into the equation and has no say. Your state and federal “representatives” are only representing their wallet, not the law/public interest as dictated by their constituents.

  24. #24 |  MRK | 

    #23 just about nailed it. Although I blame corporations less, and the power of money more. Money corrupts, and professional Lobbyists certainly have a lot of money.

    The little guy (e.g. your average U.S. Citizen) cannot even get his senator to read his letter; whereas a Lobbyist can schedule a 30 minute face to face meeting with the senator with a single phone call.

  25. #25 |  Matt D | 

    I find this sort of argument at once fairly convincing and fairly trivial.

    Yes, the more power government has, the more players there will be trying to influence it. However, that doesn’t really prove that it’s not worth having government do a thing, or that it’s impossible for government to do it correctly. For instance, while I think we spend way too much on defense, it is certainly a legit role for government, and remains so despite the fact that the process of determining which weapons to buy and from whom will inevitably be corrupt. Likewise, regulation of negative externalities is arguably a legit function of government even by libertarian standards, and again, while the process may be corrupted it’s still worth doing.

  26. #26 |  flukebucket | 

    you should find something else to occupy your time.

    Nah Scott. Been coming over here for a long, long time.

    I think I’ll stay.

  27. #27 |  Gary Chartier | 

    Matt D @25: it seems as if what the proposed theorem shows is that the likelihood of abuse increases in proportion to the size of government. The stakes are higher, and that means the incentives for corruption and manipulation are higher.

    That doesn’t prove on its own that the risks aren’t worth taking–that’s because the theorem simply states an empirical relationship; what risks we ought to tolerate is partly a normative matter and partly a matter of personal preference.

    My own view is not that it’s impossible for the government to provide defense services or regulate negative externalities, nor do I know anyone who’d use language that strong. I’d just want to argue that the risks are much greater when these services are provided by the government than when they’re provided by the market, which seems to me to be a good reason to opt for the market.

  28. #28 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “Meanwhile, I’ll continue to vote third-party and hope for the best.”

    May I remind everyone that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

    Rather than vote for a 3rd-party candidate (worse than meaningless), try something that, if practiced en masse, would actually change the system.

    That would be NOT voting.

    If that’s not a persuasive enough argument, then accept the fact that voting is a violent act, the act of forcing one’s beliefs on another person via State coercion, as reason enough to abstain.

  29. #29 |  BamBam | 

    #24, you’re right, it’s not so much corporations as it is whoever is holding the money. A large percentage of this is corporations, with other large percentages going to Richie Rich types that control a lot of the resources that the rest of us use. Ultimately corporations are owned by someone, and you follow the tree graph and find a small number of people own, and thus, control everything.

  30. #30 |  Coises | 

    Rather than vote for a 3rd-party candidate (worse than meaningless), try something that, if practiced en masse, would actually change the system.That would be NOT voting.Cynical in CA

    If this table of National Voter Turnout in Federal Elections: 1960–2008 is even roughly correct, a lot of folks have been abstaining from the ballot box: a majority of the voting-age population in every non-presidential election during that period, and even in one year, 1996, when there was a presidential election. No year since 1968 has had as much as 60% voter turnout.

    I don’t see that this has changed much of anything.

  31. #31 |  BamBam | 

    However, that doesn’t really prove that it’s not worth having government do a thing, or that it’s impossible for government to do it correctly.

    Government can never be done correctly; refer to history. Humans love to control other humans by any means necessary (manipulation/threat of violence/actual violence). The only valid meaning of correctly is “everyone is free to do what they want, unencumbered, until they harm property (which can be land, a human’s body, food, other tangible items, etc)”. Any other definition of correctly is (usually) biased towards the way one desires the world to be, which means to your benefit and another’s detriment.

  32. #32 |  Mattocracy | 

    The problem with not voting is that at the very least the candidates themselves will vote even if no one else does. In theory its a nice idea, but some people will never pass up the chance to control others. There is no perfect system, but there is always a system nonetheless.

  33. #33 |  RGD | 

    I fail to see how suggesting a reduction in government regulation will not simply cause the same problems that government regulation was created to fix…given, in the past, business wasn’t regulated, and were allowed to do more-or-less what they desired without government interference. So they did just that: they screwed the public in favor of their pocketbook.

    And they could, because they had the money, influence, and therefore power to do it. Doesn’t matter what the common citizen wanted or felt.

    So there is no sense in the idea that “less regulation/influence” is the solution, when the problems government regulation was created to fix will simply reassert themselves once that influence is removed and we will be back to bitching about child labor and private power companies who won’t service small, rural communities because there’s no profit, and etc.

  34. #34 |  Coises | 

    Government can never be done correctly; refer to history.
    [...]
    The only valid meaning of correctly is “everyone is free to do what they want, unencumbered, until they harm property (which can be land, a human’s body, food, other tangible items, etc)”. — BamBam

    In 1902, one might have said, “Heavier-than-air flight can never be done correctly; refer to history.” The fact that humans have not yet figured out how to do something well doesn’t mean there is no good way to do it.

    I’d say a valid meaning of “correctly” should include (approximate) Pareto efficiency. That’s probably a necessary, but not sufficient, condition. I can’t prove this — I don’t know if it can be proved — but I suspect there is no mechanical (i.e., purely rule-governed) system of aggregating individual choices determined purely by isolated self-interest that can consistently achieve Pareto efficiency. Not free markets, not majority rule… as in the classic prisoner’s dilemma, it is necessary to step outside isolated self-interest to find good solutions.

    As the most social of social animals, Homo sapiens has developed various traits that help us find more efficient solutions to problems than would be possible with only isolated self-interest — things like empathy, ethics and a sense of fairness. These evolved to provide great success in the village/tribe. What we have not yet discovered is how to make them work well in the nation/state.

  35. #35 |  billy-jay | 

    Fluffy, if you would’ve called Patterico a giant fucking douchebag, then I’d be saying, “What Fluffy said,” too.

  36. #36 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “I don’t see that this has changed much of anything.” — Coises

    Of course, it would take 99%+ non-voters for the change to occur.

    40% or whatever of eligible voters is more than enough to sanctify the system of violence.

    You have proved nothing.

  37. #37 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “The problem with not voting is that at the very least the candidates themselves will vote even if no one else does.” — Mattocracy

    Exactly Matt, if the only ones doing the voting are the candidates themselves, then at least everyone will see the system for what it is — a dictatorship.

  38. #38 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “In 1902, one might have said, “Heavier-than-air flight can never be done correctly; refer to history.” The fact that humans have not yet figured out how to do something well doesn’t mean there is no good way to do it.” — Coises

    False analogy. Flight is a physical science. Government is a social science. Humans are not the same as planes.

  39. #39 |  Coises | 

    “Of course, it would take 99%+ non-voters for the change to occur.

    40% or whatever of eligible voters is more than enough to sanctify the system of violence.”

    “if the only ones doing the voting are the candidates themselves, then at least everyone will see the system for what it is — a dictatorship.”

    — Cynical in CA

    I’m pretty sure well more than 1% of the population like the dictatorship (or, more accurately, plutocracy). Plenty of them will gladly do their “patriotic duty” to help maintain the appearance of democracy, which is very useful to them. That 99%+ is unattainable.

    Year by year, politicians make it easier and easier to see that ours is just an imitation of democracy; what we don’t know is what to do about it. Revolution is probably impossible and certainly impractical; yet “change within the system” appears incapable changing the system itself. There seems to be little left to do but wait for disaster… the aftermath of which is many times more likely to be something worse than something better.

    If there’s a way out, I think it will come from the bottom up: the way people think about government and politics will have to change, and nothing in government or politics can be the source of that change. The current way of doing things will neither be overthrown nor reformed; it will simply, first slowly and then with exponentially increasing speed, become irrelevant, and the ones who are now “in charge” will be the last to know… somewhat like what’s happening to the music industry in the wake of the Internet.

  40. #40 |  supercat | 

    //In 1902, one might have said, “Heavier-than-air flight can never be done correctly; refer to history.” The fact that humans have not yet figured out how to do something well doesn’t mean there is no good way to do it.//

    In 1900, would it have made any sense for anyone who wasn’t genuinely clairvoyant to have made a particularly large investment in the development of heavier-than-air flight? Even with the benefit of hindsight, I see no rational reason why anyone who wasn’t clairvoyant would have made such an investment. If it could be done at all, small investments (possibly repeated) would suffice for proof-of-concept; if it couldn’t be done at all, a large investment would be wasted.

    Absent some evidence that any particular big-government programs are likely to achieve their claimed beneficial objectives, and given substantial evidence that they likely will not, it is at best foolish to invest billions or trillions of dollars in such programs. Even if it were conceivable that they might somehow work, it makes no sense to put money on a 100:1 long shot that might pay off 5:1.

  41. #41 |  supercat | 

    //If there’s a way out, I think it will come from the bottom up: the way people think about government and politics will have to change, and nothing in government or politics can be the source of that change. //

    What I’d like to see would be for more people to realize that (1) jurors have the right and duty to regard the actual Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land, judicial declarations notwithstanding; (2) any government agent who attempts to keep off juries people who would honor their duty to the Constitution should be regarded as an enemy of the Constitution; (3) such people have no legitimate authority to ask questions of jurors that would screen out those who honor the Constitution, and so jurors who would honor the Constitution have no obligation to answer truthfully the questions that prosecutors have no authority to ask.

    To the above I would add: (1) if jurors would find that a search was unreasonable, the search was unreasonable and thus illegitimate; (2) if jurors would find that a particular punishment would be excessive in a particular case, the punishment is excessive and thus illegitimate; (3) that which is not justifiable without reference to judicial precedent is not justifiable.

  42. #42 |  Coises | 

    Absent some evidence that any particular big-government programs are likely to achieve their claimed beneficial objectives, and given substantial evidence that they likely will not, it is at best foolish to invest billions or trillions of dollars in such programs. — supercat

    With that I agree completely.

    Even though I don’t think that the right-libertarian “minimalist government” approach would ultimately be optimal, we could do (and are doing) a lot worse than to start from there and place the burden of proof on those who would expand government. As a “left-lib,” I’d gladly support right-lib + open minds. I wish I knew how to get that far.

  43. #43 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Good discussion in my absence. Coises, we’re a lot more in agreement than I thought.

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