Lobbying + socialism = destruction?
Are lobbyists to blame for the myriad of spending programs that have drained the US treasury?
In my recent past life, I was one of America’s top lobbyists. I represented corporate, governmental, and individual interests before the United States Congressional and Executive branches, until I was brought down in a harrowing political scandal. I served almost four years in a federal prison, and emerged with a different perspective on lobbying and our politics.
The popular notion is that lobbyists for corporations and other special interests are venal creatures, taking every advantage of loopholes in the political system. While there are certainly many corporate lobbyists who fit that description, most are decent people trying to ensure that commerce and opportunity are not impeded by overreaching statists.
Conversely, the popular culture has virtually knighted those lobbying for the so-called public interest, considering them beyond reproach and only slightly more human than angels.
While it is certainly the case that many working on behalf of their fellow citizens, without regard to their own personal advancement, are the best of our societies, the naïve approach which grants non-corporate lobbyists and interests carte blanche access to our treasuries is dangerous and wrong-headed.
My current activities include campaigning to reduce severely the ability of lobbyists in the United States to use financial inducements in their lobbying efforts. Specifically, these inducements include campaign contributions and other gratuities which are regularly purveyed to public servants in America, and elsewhere, by people who want something back for their efforts.
Separating the money from the lobbying is vital. After all, what is a financial conveyance to a public servant by someone importuning him for a favor? It is a bribe, and all decent people can agree that bribery is immoral and deleterious. The problem is that it is not always illegal. I am working with others to change that, having spent far too many years on the other side of this matter.
Preventing lobbyists and their clients from using financial might to create an unlevel playing field is a Herculean endeavor, and those of us devoting their waking hours to this pursuit only hope that it is not also Sisyphean. Only time will tell.
Our efforts in the United States to remove corruption from the political and legislative process will greatly level the political playing field and restore integrity to our government. It will not, however, address the real disease at the core of our system. It is the same disease which has infected nations across the globe, whether they are democratic or totalitarian. In America – and much of Europe – that disease is often spread by the well-intentioned, those who want only the best for society.
The malady afflicting virtually every nation is statism – the ever expanding interference of government in our lives. We can recognize this illness in the bloated federal budgets plaguing every continent. And lobbyists are part of the problem. But, not just corporate lobbyists. This is one area where good guys, with all their good intentions, can run a nation off the rails.
While governments have been steadily expanding their control of once-free citizens for the better part of a century, the speed with which government has increased expenditures has accelerated in recent years. An inability on the part of elected officials to say “no” to any good cause, and many bad ones, has left most of the world with dire economic prospects.
In the United States, the federal debt has just exceeded $16 trillion. If re-elected, President Obama – who drove the debt higher and faster than all of his predecessors combined – is likely to increase the debt to an incomprehensible $25 trillion before he retires to the oligarchic life of an ex-US president. Our citizenry will be left to try to dig out from the rubble, though at that level, not sure we have enough shovels.
Where did all this spending come from? Why did our politicians decide to run up our debt? The problem emanates from both political parties, though there is no doubt that the Democrats are, at least, far less troubled about it. That does not exonerate the Republicans, of course.
But who is pushing the myriad of spending programs that drained our treasury? Well, lobbyists of course. By that I mean people lobbying and convincing our legislators to spend our money on their causes. Some of these causes are utterly feckless. Some are worthy. Some are vital. But all of them are pushed by lobbyists and all of them together have put the United States into financial extremis. That goes double for most of Europe.
The public and our public servants are quite argus-eyed when it comes to the corporate lobbyists asking for loans, grants, tax breaks, and other favors. And we should be.
Unfortunately, for far too many years, our guard has been down when the mendicant is soliciting our money for a more benign or popular cause. As we approach fiscal apocalypse, sober analysis can’t but lead us to the conclusion that every lobbyist – whether for a special interest or a public interest – should meet with rejection if their aim is to arrogate to their cause more of our funds.
The question is whether our public servants will change course before it is too late.
Jack Abramoff is a lobbyist turned transparancy campaigner, author, and host of the Jack Abramoff radio show
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