Politicians Need To Be Needed

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

If you’re a successful business in America, you either quickly open a lobbying office in Washington, or Washington makes you regret that you didn’t.

“If you want to get involved in business,” Sen. Orrin Hatch warned technology companies at a conference in 2000, “you should get involved in politics.”

Hatch was referring to the shortcomings of then-software king Microsoft, which he had spent most of the previous decade harassing from his perch as Judiciary Committee chairman. The message was clear: If you become successful, you must hire lobbyists, you must start a political action committee, and you must donate to politicians. Otherwise Washington will make your life very difficult.

Hatch’s crusade against Microsoft was a formative moment in the cozy relationship between K Street and Capitol Hill. That coziness has become a prime target of the Tea Party in recent years — and so has Orrin Hatch, who faces a primary Tuesday against conservative challenger Dan Liljenquist.

People think money drives politics. It doesn’t. Money is merely the vehicle. Power drives Washington. As Carney points out, Hatch has spent a good deal of his time on the Judiciary Committee targeting Microsoft. So he wasn’t mad that the company wasn’t giving him money—they weren’t giving to his opponents, either. Hatch was angry that the company wasn’t acknowledging that it needs Washington, that it needs people like him. He finds that offensive. So people like Hatch make companies like Google need people like Hatch.

More:

 . . . it grated on Hatch and other senators that Gates didn’t want to want to play the Washington game. Former Microsoft employee Michael Kinsley, a liberal, wrote of Gates: “He didn’t want anything special from the government, except the freedom to build and sell software. If the government would leave him alone, he would leave the government alone.”

This was a mistake. One lobbyist fumed about Gates to author Gary Rivlin: “You look at a guy like Gates, who’s been arrogant and cheap and incredibly naive about politics. He genuinely believed that because he was creating jobs or whatever, that’d be enough.”

Gates was “cheap” because Microsoft spent only $2 million on lobbying in 1997, and its PAC contributed less than $50,000 during the 1996 election cycle.

“You can’t say, ‘We’re better than that,’ ” a Microsoft lobbyist told me on Friday. “At some point, you get too big, and you can’t just ignore Washington.”

You know what happens next . . .

After the Hatch hearings, Microsoft complied. Its PAC increased spending fivefold in each of the next two elections. In the 2010 elections, Microsoft’s PAC contributed $2.3 million to House and Senate candidates. The PAC has contributed the maximum $10,000 to each of Hatch’s last two campaigns.

Back before the antitrust case, Microsoft’s tiny lobbying contingent sat in the company’s local sales office in Chevy Chase. Since the Hatch hearings, Gates’ company has poured more than $100 million into K Street’s economy, hiring up members of congress and Capitol Hill staff, many of whom then became top fundraisers — such as Republican Jack Abramoff and Democrat Steve Elmendorf.

And of course now that Microsoft has a strong Washington presence, it uses its influence to lobby the government to harass its competitors. Like Google, which must then open its own Washington lobbying outfit in response. And the cycle starts all over again. (If you’re really on your game, you then hire the government regulators you’ve lobbied to investigate your rival to come work for you.)

A politician like Hatch will always demand that powerful people kiss his ring. It’s why people like Hatch go into politics. The proper response is Gates’ initial reaction—to tell people like Hatch to pound dirt. The problems begin—and the corruption beings— when people like Hatch have the power to force people like Gates to respect them. So long as there’s hell to pay for not respecting Washington, no “get money out of politics” law is going to rid the city of corruption.

I don’t always agree with the Tea Party. But if the group helps oust Washington dinosaurs like Hatch, that can’t be a bad thing.

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29 Responses to “Politicians Need To Be Needed”

  1. #1 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Orrin Hatch. I hope that his afterlife is a perfect and contented society, where every need or serious want is met, and NOBODY will pay him the least attention.

    Swine.

  2. #2 |  Sam | 

    “People think money drives politics. It doesn’t. Money is merely the vehicle. Power drives Washington.” Money equals power. That’s the complaint than an awful lot of people have been making for an awful long time. And the Tea Party? They’re only angry that money doesn’t equal more power. So sure, maybe they’ll bounce Hatch, but do you think the guy who replaces him will be better? Will be less prone to money’s influence? Will be less likely to do the bidding of the wealthy? Come on.

  3. #3 |  Difster | 

    One thing I’ve tried to get across to the OWS type people is that corporations have NO real power.

    I’ve challenged people to name just ONE corporation that has power over their lives that was not given to them voluntarily (contracts) or granted to them by government (utilities, banks, etc.).

    No one has ever been able to name one. Yet they remain convinced that corporations are the problem and not government. Sure, corporations are a problem but only when they get themselves intertwined with government in various ways through regulations, lobbying, etc.

  4. #4 |  Darryl | 

    Who is John Galt?

  5. #5 |  Radley Balko | 

    Money equals power.

    The less power we give to politicians, the less reason there is to buy them off. Keep in mind, this money is going into the reelection campaigns of people like Hatch, not to their personal bank accounts. (I’m sure that happens, too. But that’s already illegal.) Most of them are already rich. Or they’re already making themselves rich through other means (see today’s morning links).

    Which means that power is the corrupting force here, not money.

    And the Tea Party? They’re only angry that money doesn’t equal more power.

    Most Tea Party rallies I saw were furious about issues like the bank bailouts and corporate welfare. I disagreed with much of what I saw, but I didn’t see anyone advocating for more corporate influence in D.C.

    So sure, maybe they’ll bounce Hatch, but do you think the guy who replaces him will be better? Will be less prone to money’s influence? Will be less likely to do the bidding of the wealthy? Come on.

    So because the new guy might be just as bad, we should keep the proven idiot in power?

    I don’t know anything about Hatch’s opponent, except that he’s running on these very issues. Which means he’ll at least be good on them in the short term. Yes, it’s likely that he’ll become more corrupted the longer he stays in Washington–as he begins to accumulate power.

    All of which is a great argument for term limits. But the people who bitch loudest about money and politics also tend to be opposed to term limits. It’s like they think that so long as we have lots and lots and lots of laws, we can give the government ever more power without worrying about it getting auctioned off, and we can have career politicians who accumulate enormous amounts of that power without ever becoming corrupted by it.

    It’s incredibly naive. It ignores both human nature and the nature of the people who seek out a career in politics.

  6. #6 |  Michael Chaney | 

    If I were Gates, I would have given enough money to Hatch’s adversaries to knock him out of office years ago – and let *that* be the lesson. I would have hired detectives to go through the skeletons in his immense closet with an electron microscope and fed every bit of dirt to his political rivals. I would have destroyed him politically. Probably would find some dirt to break up his family, too. Then, I would have sent a letter to every single politician in Washington with one single sentence:

    Who’s next?

    *That* would have fixed the problem.

    In a similar vein, Norm Brodsky (a businessman who writes a column in Inc. Magazine) was visited upon by the Olympic people a few years ago. Being naive, sadly, he decided to play with the snakes. It cost him a lot of money. The article is in the June 2005 issue, this link might work:

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:g9Cz0SYz8X8J:www.inc.com/magazine/20050601/nbrodsky.html+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

    I recommend you read it to see how they shake this guy down for money while threatening eminent domain takings. The proper thing to do would have been to spend the money they were asking for to publicize it.

  7. #7 |  MH | 

    “Money equals power.”

    Money does not equal power. Money equals purchasing power. You can purchase power as you can other things, but you need to do so first before you can wield any power. For instance, without power, Michael Bloomberg could never tell you what size drink you can buy, or stop and frisk young black men. Naturally, the bigger the government, the more power is available for purchase.

    “That’s the complaint than an awful lot of people have been making for an awful long time.”

    Two logical fallacies in one sentence: you’re quite efficient!

  8. #8 |  Other Sean | 

    Michael #6,

    You said: “If I were Gates, I would have given enough money to Hatch’s adversaries to knock him out of office years ago – and let *that* be the lesson.”

    Ah, but don’t you see…the ENTIRE political class would have resisted that vigorously and on principle. Even politicians who loathed Orrin Hatch with a passion would have locked arms with him to defeat such a move. Most of the big lobbying organizations would have done the same.

    They would have done it for the same reasons Hatch himself sought out and harassed Microsoft: They can tolerate being hated, but they can’t tolerate being ignored.

  9. #9 |  RobSmalls | 

    I can’t remember who said it (I think it may have been Ron Paul, but I’m probably mistaken), but this statement paraphrases it nicely: “I don’t want to get the money out of politics. I want to make politics not worth buying.” That’s a perfect sentiment for people who see the problem isn’t the money going to politician, but what you can trade that money for, namely political favors granted by the powerful in Washington.

  10. #10 |  Sam | 

    How can you possibly claim that the Tea Party wasn’t arguing for more corporate influence in Washington? Is it just by accident that Tea Party candidates overwhelmingly favor policies which amount to huge handouts to corporations throughout the United States, via lowered taxes and lessened regulation?

    To put that another way, if John McCain wins in 2008, do you think those same protestors are taking to the streets to protest?

  11. #11 |  Radley Balko | 

    Is it just by accident that Tea Party candidates overwhelmingly favor policies which amount to huge handouts to corporations throughout the United States, via lowered taxes and lessened regulation?

    I think we have different definitions of handout.

  12. #12 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Sam certainly has bought into the (largely Statist Intellectual) notion that all money rightly belongs to the State. There is a difference between policies that restrain the State’s efforts to grab money from people who have it and policies that invole the State giving money it has stlen from others to favored companies.

  13. #13 |  Sam | 

    Well, if corporations no longer have to spend money cleaning up their own pollution, that’s a huge handout, as it amounts to the government saying, “Don’t worry about being responsible if being responsible is going to cost you anything.” If corporations have to pay an even smaller share of taxes than they’re already not paying, that’s a huge handout, as it amounts to the government saying, “Don’t worry about the provision of services upon which your business if founded, we’ll have middle class people pay for that.” How on Earth are you defining handout?

  14. #14 |  Seth Owen | 

    “I can’t remember who said it (I think it may have been Ron Paul, but I’m probably mistaken), but this statement paraphrases it nicely: “I don’t want to get the money out of politics. I want to make politics not worth buying.” That’s a perfect sentiment for people who see the problem isn’t the money going to politician, but what you can trade that money for, namely political favors granted by the powerful in Washington.”

    Sadly, this illustrates the fundamental misconception of how the world really works that lies at the heart of Libertarianism and why it will never amount to more than a starry-eyed affectation for comfortable middle-class white boys. Politics will ALWAYS be worth buying. Even in states as minimal as warlord-run Somalia political power is sought and bought. You don’t even need to have a government to have politics. Even in locales with the minimal government of a rural New England town, you see can find cases of skulduggery from time to time as local factions wrestle over power. For crying out loud, I swear to God that none of you have ever been to a ZBA hearing.

  15. #15 |  Brandon | 

    Sam, stop repeating the HuffPo talking points for a second and try reading. Check out Reason.com, or cato.org, and learn something that’s actually backed up by facts and logic.

    And Seth, are you 13?

  16. #16 |  Shannon's Mouse | 

    “Politics will ALWAYS be worth buying.”

    No, Seth! Don’t you see??!! When we remove the power of government it will be the dawn of the age of the New Libertarian Man. NLM will never rent seek. Corporations run by NLM will volunteer to internalize the costs they had previously lobbied to externalize and will negotiate in good faith with their laborers. NLM will always elect leaders eager to preserve liberty for all instead of supporting the narrow interests of their consituency or their benefactors.

  17. #17 |  Delta | 

    The article is good, and it’s a real problem, and I remember being outraged by Hatch’s comments on Microsoft over a decade ago.

    But I don’t see any evidence for the spin added here that that’s what motivates Tea Party opposition to Hatch. For example, FreedomWorks has posted a 36-page booklet on reasons to reject Hatch. (FreedomWorks: Founded by Koch brothers; “has done more than any other organization to build the Tea Party movement.” per NY Times.)

    Their top reasons are his support for Medicare, TARP, health insurance, education, bailouts, and debt ceiling. Nowhere in the 36-page booklet are his comments on Gates are Microsoft mentioned. His support of increased lobbying is not mentioned as an issue.

    http://www.freedomworksforamerica.org/candidate/orrin-hatch

  18. #18 |  demize! | 

    @3 Corporations ARE the government lol.

  19. #19 |  StrangeOne | 

    Corporations are legal entities. They exist only as long as the state allows them too. That’s what Hatches whole problem with Microsoft was. He was threatening the existence of the company because he felt their tribute was lacking.

    In the old days you had the king and his noble courtiers. Today its Washington politicians and corporate lobbyists. The nobles had power, but it was entirely dependent on the strength of the king. Their continued power relied upon being in the kings favor, and making sure the king himself was powerful. This natural reciprocity of power and influence hasn’t really changed much in human history, we just have different players and titles than older cultures. It’s funny to hear people argue about the evilness of corporations and how they “corrupt” government. It’s akin to someone in the middle ages arguing about all those evil nobles and how the king, despite empowering, sanctioning, and ordering the nobles around, is really just such a nice guy without their “corrupting” influence.

    Too many people, on both ends of the political spectrum, worship government power. When they see government power doing things they don’t like, they can either honestly admit that government itself is dangerous and largely unaccountable, or deflect the problem entirely to some hated group. Corporations, religions, unions, and special interests are constantly demonized for soliciting government power. The fact that government power is always for sale is glossed over by these critics who assume that with the right rules, or the right people in charge, all that power will just do what they want it to.

    It’s this naively selfish notion that the government should be powerful enough to do whatever you want, but should ignore the equally valid requests of everyone you disagree with. If you are upset with government action you have to limit the government. If you agree with one set of bailouts, legal exceptions, or special rights, you don’t get to be upset when everyone else gets them too. You want the government to ban cigarettes, well now someone wants them to ban soda. You want the government to pay for education, well now its paying for retirement and health care too. You got the government you wanted and so did everyone else. The fact that you all disagree is your own problem.

    If you only agree with government action on a very narrow range of situations, and disagree with that action everywhere else, then don’t foolishly give your government the power to act in those situations. Libertarians understand that getting one thing you want out of government generally precipitates getting a bunch of things you don’t want. That’s why they strive for minimal government. No amount of bashing the nobles is going to change the powers given to the king.

  20. #20 |  RobSmalls | 

    #14 Seth Owen: Maybe you should settle down a little bit. I offered that quote to make the point that the amount of power currently wielded by the federal government makes rent-seeking and big spending in national politics an inevitability. And I don’t see you disputing that point, but somehow you see fit to call me out as a “comfortable middle-class white boy” as though that had anything to do with the price of tea in China, much less this discussion.

    The fact of matter is that if the federal government had less power, less money would be spent in an attempt to influence it.

  21. #21 |  perlhaqr | 

    Michael Chaney++

  22. #22 |  Pale Rider | 

    @13 – corporations don’t pay taxes. Those costs are passed through to the customers. Not sure how you jump from smaller government/lower taxes to repeal of all environmental laws and total immunity for damage caused by pollution.

    @14 – So even minor reductions in the size/scope of gov’t = Somalia?

    I’ll make you a deal – you quit talking crazy about Somalia and I’ll refrain from telling you to move to your statist utopia of North Korea.

    @16 – It’s statists like yourself that make crazy arguments about new soviet man. Libertarianism recognizes the shortcomings in man’s nature and advocates limited government and decentralized power because of those shortcomings.

  23. #23 |  Radley Balko | 

    Their top reasons are his support for Medicare, TARP, health insurance, education, bailouts, and debt ceiling. Nowhere in the 36-page booklet are his comments on Gates are Microsoft mentioned. His support of increased lobbying is not mentioned as an issue.

    Well, no. It’s unlikely that the Tea Party would oppose Hatch specifically for comments he made 12 years ago. It’s more about the culture those comments represent, as reflected in Hatch’s support for TARP, bailouts, etc.

  24. #24 |  Radley Balko | 

    Shannon’s Mouse:

    If government were getting progressively smaller and less powerful, do you think we would still be shattering campaign spending records each election cycle?

  25. #25 |  Radley Balko | 

    Seth:

    But when government is less powerful and less influential, there’s less interest in buying it off. No one is going to pay money to lobby, bribe, or buy an election if the position or official they’re buying isn’t powerful enough to give them a return on their investment.

  26. #26 |  Whahappan? | 

    @Michael Chaney:
    “If I were Gates, I would have given enough money to Hatch’s adversaries to knock him out of office years ago – and let *that* be the lesson. I would have hired detectives to go through the skeletons in his immense closet with an electron microscope and fed every bit of dirt to his political rivals. I would have destroyed him politically. Probably would find some dirt to break up his family, too. Then, I would have sent a letter to every single politician in Washington with one single sentence:”

    It’s precisely because he was Gates and not Hatch that he did no such thing. Not to put Gates or other entrepreneurs on a pedestal, but most people don’t have the inflated ego, sense of entitlement, vainglorious hubris and desire to harm others that politicians do.

  27. #27 |  rick | 

    The author doesn’t mention that Bill Clinton went after Microsoft with the FTC after a face to face meeting in Seattle in 1995. Gates didn’t donate enough money to Clinton’s re-election.
    The FTC witch hunt caused the dotcom crash.

  28. #28 |  It’s good to be the incumbent « Blunt Object | 

    [...] of a 2006 mortgage into the marketplace of ideas but don’t flinch a millimetre when high-powered Senators extort protection money from private companies for the outrageous insult of minding their own business and trying to avoid playing the [...]

  29. #29 |  Mike in MI | 

    All of which makes me appreciate Ron Paul even more…a walking political miracle!

    “Only Ron Paul can defeat Barack Obama. Hence you are told the opposite.”

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