In U.S. politics, it is always the other person or side that is greedy, corrupt, and mendacious. It’s never the person complaining or their own party. It would be a breath of fresh air if an elected official ranting on the floor of the House or Senate conceded to being as dishonest as their colleagues across the aisle. Of course, this is about as likely to happen as Hillary Clinton becoming president or socialism succeeding.
Lobbying is back in the news again. Recently, a video from a hearing that featured Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) using adolescent phrases like “super legal” and “bad guy” went viral. Ostensibly, leftists applauded her allusion to a process that confirms the notion that politicians are bought and sold by special interests of the wrong kind, like the odious oil and gas companies and the big bad pharmaceutical giants.
...lobbyists will typically support politicians who are already sympathetic to their plight…
For years, lobbying has remained a bipartisan issue, receiving condemnation from both Republicans and Democrats. The elephants and donkeys rail against money in politics, lambasting the surreptitious meeting behind the Lincoln Memorial where a couple of suits extend a briefcase of cash to a politician in exchange for influencing public policy a la a Frank Capra picture. But is it time to separate fact from fiction? What’s the real state of lobbying in America today?
Grab your coat, get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep, and direct your feet to the sunny side of Capitol Hill.
Who Are the Lobbyists?
If you were to ask any person on the street to cite the biggest lobbyists in the country, the answers would inevitably be oil juggernauts, drug companies, and Wall Street titans. You cannot fault the average American for believing this, primarily because these industries are all you hear and read about in the mainstream press and pop culture – and not in a good way. But what’s the truth?
First, it’s important to know what a lobbyist is. This is an activist who attempts to persuade representatives and senators to pass or reject legislation that benefits or hurts their chosen group or cause. They might achieve this through campaign contributions, free airtime, public endorsements, political action committees (PACs), and fundraisers. For the most part, lobbyists will typically support politicians who are already sympathetic to their plight, which contradicts the accepted idea that they will alter an official’s position on an issue. AOC won’t suddenly support Exxon Mobil if the company lavished her with stocks or worshiped the ground she walked on. Of course, that isn’t to say this never happens.
In 2018, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top three spenders were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($94.8 million), the National Association of Realtors ($72.8 million), and the Open Society Policy Center ($31.52 million). These are not exactly gun-toting Second Amendment activists or old white men wearing monocles and tuxedos.
Cumulatively, since 1998, the top five clients were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($1.5 billion), the National Association of Realtors ($543 million), the American Medical Association ($393 million), the American Hospital Association ($372 million), and Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America ($364 million). You don’t see the National Rifle Association (NRA) or American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on the federal list.
Over the last decade, the number of lobbyists has declined from 14,136 to 11,586, while lobbying spending has averaged approximately $3.25 billion.
Anytime someone qualifies their attack on lobbying by citing the fossil fuel or financial services industry, it is important to ask two questions: Why isn’t green energy added to the conversation? And, is it wrong for green energy businesses to spend more than $20 million a year on lobbying efforts? A cognitive bias would ensue.
Lobbying the Anti-Lobbyists
Former Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was a champion of fighting against this practice and money in politics. During the ’08 election, he told Politico:
“Whenever there’s a corrupt system, then you’re going to have these birds of prey descend on it to get their share of the spoils.
Lobbyists don’t come to my office. Because they know they’re not going to be an earmark. They know they’re not going to get a pork-barrel project. Senator Obama’s gotten lots of ‘em.”
Simply put, Sen. McCain was the beacon of rectitude while everyone else was prone to moral transgressions. But it isn’t just McCain who behaved in this superior manner; every incumbent and candidate lambastes the system while simultaneously claiming the high road. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is like this, but the data suggests she’s guilty, too. Last year, she received nearly $82,000 from PACs, $60,000 from lawyers and law firms, and $37,000 from the securities and investment sector. She was also given handsome sums from universities and unions, which, according to the left, is okay because they’re using their speech and championing acceptable causes – Big Oil and Big Pharma are never afforded the same courtesy.
If the government weren’t a leviathan that imposes itself on the economy, passes dozens of laws each week, and imprisons the public from cradle to grave, then lobbyists wouldn’t converge onto Washington any day that ends in “y.” If the government were smaller and abided by the Constitution, then there wouldn’t be anything to influence. So, if AOC or Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) were really losing sleep at night over the billions in lobbying efforts, then they would advocate for the shrinkage of the state. But if that were the case, then they wouldn’t know how to keep themselves busy and justify their six-figure salaries.