Should lobbying congressmen be considered illegal?

 

 

 

The Daily Journalist community opinion.

 

 

In my experience walking the lobbies of Capitol Hill, and watching men with briefcases giving politicians cordial handshakes in exchange for gifts is something that till this day I find contradictory. I could be wrong, but to me lobbying is somewhat a form of legal bribery. 

Citizens vote for politicians to represent their towns and states, but the biggest threat I see in the system is that powerful institutions have the financial ability to frustrate the will of the people by seducing politicians with a nice gift to get their way. 

In 2011, on the USA Today headlines, an ex-Lobbyist called Jack Abramoff said that, “most congressmen accept bribes.” He also claimed that the system was very corrupt and it sadden him. 

In your opinion. 

– Is the US the only western country where Lobbying is legal? 

– Do you believe Lobbying should be legal? Is a legal form of bribery right for democracy? 

– Do these bribes in congress also come from foreign countries also? (China, Saudi Arabia…)

–  Are politicians accepting ‘briefcases’ the reason why international and national policies have turned the economy, social reforms, foreign policy, besides other programs from experiencing crucial reforms for peoples benefits? 

– What would it take to eliminate Lobbying? And would US Citizens see positive results from such reform?  

 

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Sebastian Sarbu.

(He is a military analyst and vicepresident of National Academy of Security and Defence Planning. Member of American Diplomatic Mission for International Relations.)

“Lobbying and other kinds of activities that affect the democratic will of societies should to be out of the law.

It’s also needed of an adequate legislation to enforcement the law in the way of the prevention in corruption to protect society entirely. Another  possible legal solution would be the ban of special interests of influence groups.

Not only in the US illegal lobbies try to control the decision in the state. That is the temptation of all democratic systems with economic power. Even for the states which have old democratic tradition it is a big new challenge to be riddled with corruption, but the “illegal” lobbies tear, somehow and sometimes, the mask of legality.

Democracy must be defended by rules and mechanisms. In this sense it doesn’t matter what kind of constitutional order rule any country has, because history proves that each country has been “forced” to establish the rule of law.

Furthermore, the economic development, strategic interests, human rights, education, who are subject of the democratic reform must be protected by law.

Corruption, and the absence of integrity that created any prejudice of the general interest should be a question of national security matters.

Also it is necessary to understand that in an open society, the democratic control exercised over the governance is the chance of change. The solidarity between elites and free society could provide the best solutions into the peoples benefit.”

 

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Peter D. Rosenstein.

(He is a non-profit executive, journalist and Democratic and community activist. His background includes teaching; serving as Coordinator of Local Government for the City of New York; working in the Carter Administration; and Vice-chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia)

“In my experience walking the lobbies of Capitol Hill, and watching men with briefcases giving politicians cordial handshakes in exchange for gifts is something that till this day I find contradictory. I could be wrong, but to me lobbying is somewhat a form of legal bribery.

You are wrong. There is nothing wrong with ‘lobbying’ and it is done not only by those on ‘K Street’ but by individuals who can call their members of Congress and visit them at any time both in Washington D.C.and when they are home. The bad name that lobbying has gotten is because of all the money in politics today and that should be curtailed. But letting citizens and their representatives have the opportunity to talk to members and let them know what they want them to do and vote for is fine.

Citizens vote for politicians to represent their towns and states, but the biggest threat I see in the system is that powerful institutions have the financial ability to frustrate the will of the people by seducing politicians with a nice gift to get their way.

One has to question what you mean when you say ‘gift’. Generally today because the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people in ‘Citizens United’ there is much too much money in politics. Yes corporations and large entities use donations of money to campaigns to get access to politicians. I am against their ability to do that, but as long as it is legal it will continue. But I have found over the years even without much money and without a political action committee (PAC) citizens can still be heard if they are persistent.

in 2011, on the USA Today, an ex-Lobbyist called Jack Abramoff said that, “most congressmen accept bribes.” He also claimed that the system was very corrupt and it sadden him.

– Is the US the only western country where Lobbying is legal?

Clearly bribery of public officials is not limited to the United States. The problem is with our elections that they are so long and so expensive that more money is needed to run and win. That leads to members of Congress spending inordinate amounts of time raising funds and at this time there is no limit on what they can raise which is the problem.

– Do you believe Lobbying should be legal? Is a legal form of bribery right for democracy?

Lobbying is not a legal form of bribery. That premise is wrong. Yes lobbying should be legal but the amount of money that can be contributed to campaigns should be curtailed. Today there is a limit on what members of Congress and their staffs can take as gifts etc. That should be even more stringent.

– Do these bribes in congress also come from foreign countries also? (China, Saudi Arabia…)

Member of Congress may not take money from foreign entities or raise money for campaigns from anyone other than citizens of the United States.

–  Are politicians accepting ‘briefcases’ the reason why international and national policies have turned the economy, social reforms, foreign policy, besides other programs from experiencing crucial reforms for peoples benefits?

I am not sure where this concept of accepting ‘briefcases’ really comes from. There have been politicians and lobbyists like Abramoff who have gone to jail for doing illegal things. It is not the rule in any way that I have seen. It has little to do with not passing crucial reforms that will benefit people.

– What would it take to eliminate Lobbying? And would US Citizens see positive results from such reform?

We won’t eliminate lobbying and I want our citizens to be able to lobby their members of Congress on issues they care about. Again what needs to be eliminated is the obscene amounts of money in US Congressional campaigns.”

 

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Peter Eyre.

(Engaged in conflicts in the Middle East (Aden – Lebanon – Suez – Trucial Oman, far East (Borneo-Indonesia-Malaysia) and the “Cold War”. He is now an advocate of human rights)

“- Is the US the only western country where Lobbying is legal? 

No lobbying takes place in almost all countries and it would be impossible to find any international politician who has not had is palmed brushed

– Do you believe Lobbying should be legal? Is a legal form of bribery right for democracy? 

Lobbying should not be legal and certainly is not democratic ….its promotes fraudulent activity, bribes and allows the political elite to accept funding for their campaigns in return for policy changes etc which favour the donors…….Zionist are the backbone behind this activity in almost every country!!

 – Do these bribes in congress also come from foreign countries also? (China, Saudi Arabia…)

Absolutely from all sectors both from international governments and the international corporate sector……especially from the oil, gas and mining sectors who drain billions if not trillions from each countries coffers, not to mention their tax avoidance!

 –  Are politicians accepting ‘briefcases’ the reason why international and national policies have turned the economy, social reforms, foreign policy, besides other programs from experiencing crucial reforms for peoples benefits? 

Yes absolutely…….one example is the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron who managed to acquire a suitcase from South Africa containing 17.8 million pounds during the reign of Maggie Thatcher……..it is rife in all countries and all of the above leads to a governments artificial defecit which is then followed by severe austerity measure…..all of which is totally unjustified……..if we all followed the international fraud and recovered those proceeds of crime our respective countries would all be in the blue!!

 – What would it take to eliminate Lobbying? And would US Citizens see positive results from such reform?  

The simply stroke of a pen would start the process and if the US Citizens really knew the truth behind government corruption/fraud we would certainly see good results immediately……..in the true sense of the word there is no national deficit at all……its all stolen government gold, money that as been siphoned off into offshore accounts with the full knowledge of politicians and with the full backing of the Reserve Bank system…..that is illegal and against the law!!”

 

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Jon Kofas.

(Retired Indiana University university professor. Academic Writing. International Political Economy – Fiction)

“According to public opinion polls, about two thirds of Americans believe that lobbyists have too much power and lobbying is at the core of the policy making decision process. This means that powerful interest groups, namely, US and foreign corporations as well as foreign governments such as Israel and China prevail in policy that does not advance the interests of the American people, but often harms them. Of course, there are also advocacy lobbies dealing with the welfare of the elderly, education, science and culture, the environment, and other issues such as gay marriage that reflect the trends of the particular period. However, when we compare the preeminent influence of the defense industry lobby with all of the small and weak groups advocating diplomatic solutions to crises and arms – from nuclear to conventional – reduction, the defense industry prevails every time as it has from the late 19th century until the present.

One could argue that right-wing propagandists like Charles Krauthammer and Robert Samuelson advance valid arguments in favor of lobbying and believe that indeed it is “democracy in action”. This means that “democracy” is limited to those that can afford lobbyists while the rest must suffer the results of public policy often to their detriment. The larger question is how lobbies pose a threat to a modern democracy and alienate the majority of the people outside the services of lobbyists who have become a fixture in politics. This issue goes beyond ideological and political convictions to the practical matter of how one defines national interest. If the few large banks, insurance companies, and multinational corporations are the “national interest”, then by all means what is good for corporate America is good for all Americans, regardless of statistics showing massive capital concentration and steady decline of the middle class in the last three decades.

“What is good for corporate America is good for all Americans” is exactly the notion that the media, businesses, most academics and think tanks project to the public. This is what politicians practice, no matter their hypocritical populist rhetoric about “serving all of the people”. Considering that two-thirds of the people are convinced that lobbyists, not the voters, exercise influence over policymakers, then there is a widespread belief that democracy is indeed for sale and always well paid for. One could argue that American democracy was always for sale to business interests because it was founded by men committed to private property rather than social justice, individuals interested in protecting and promoting propertied class rather than the welfare of the entire population. Lobbying is simply a reflection of how the values and structure of the political economy.

Although lobbying as we know it today had its start during the last quarter of the 19th century, the history of lobbying in the US goes back to the Founding Fathers. Most of them were concerned about narrow or special interests prevailing over the “general will” as French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau defined in a book by the same title where he outlines a version of social democracy that differs substantially from the Liberal model of John Locke whose goal was to promote propertied interests through a strong legislative branch. Although Locke was interested in preventing tyranny by Absolutist monarchs, he did not have a notion of the collective or general will as did Rousseau and was only interested in preventing tyranny at the expense of the propertied classes. This mindset prevailed among the Founding Fathers. Clearly, there were no advocates with any sort of political power for African slaves, Native Americans, women, non-Western European immigrants, and for workers and peasants. These people were either completely outside of political life or barely on the margins.

The framers of the US Constitution were white males representing the propertied classes of the late 18th century, but envisioned an open society where bourgeois opportunity rooted in merit would take hold in America as opposed to a system rooted in special privileges because of birth-right as was the case with the European aristocracy and/or links to the government that would favor one interest group over the other. At least this was the ideal, though in reality the First Amendment of the Constitution provided the window special interests needed to exert inordinate influence and prevail over the general will. While there was some lobbying at the central government level in the 19th century by banking, industrial, mining and railroad groups, most of the lobbying took place at the state and local levels, accounting for enormous political corruption as evidenced by cronyism in larger cities from Boston to Chicago where “machine politics” took hold.

During the Gild Age (1870-1900), which coincided with the American industrial revolution and the Westward Movement and Reconstruction, there was indeed enormous corruption, partly owing to lobbying. Politics became increasingly a business of catering to business of those politically connected at the expense of the rest of society from consumers to labor organizers demanding safe working conditions and fair wages so they could live above the poverty level.

The deterioration of politics as a mechanism promoting big business was something that middle class critics pointed out during the Progressive Era when many viewed lobbying as a detriment to democracy. The response by Republican and Democrat Progressives was to rationalize government, that is to say, expand it through more and larger bureaucracies and make it more merit-based so it could better serve capitalism as a whole, including balancing the interests of disparate sectors. A major goal of the Progressives was the overall growth of the capitalist economy with the state as the pillar of support while at the same time protecting the consumer to a small degree and addressing some needs of the middle class that viewed big business as predatory. This was at least the theory. In practice, it did not work because Gilded Age monopolies and oligopolies, which many Progressive critics decried, continued to prevail in formulating public policy, while government remained their protector.

From the outbreak of WWI until FDR took office, capitalism reverted to Gilded Age practices that helped bring about the Great Depression. Throughout the 1920s, lobbying became more organized and intensive. Operating in a pro-business climate, lobbyists used more high-pressure tactics to secure passage of legislation by targeting committees and regulatory commissions. With capitalism collapsing in 1929, the New Deal and WWII entailed greater regulatory measures and centralization of government. However, the trend to restore the preeminent role of business in public policy returned with the Truman administration. The Cold War followed by the “war on terror” became the pretext to permit as much laissez-faire latitude as possible so that capitalism becomes stronger.

Lobbyists and influence peddlers on behalf of capital became the new saints of the system from the Reagan-Thatcher decade in the 1980s until the present, despite mini-recessions in the 1980s and 1990s, and a major one in 2008. The Reagan myth of “big government is the enemy”, implying big business is “our friend”, was a signal to corporate lobbying that government was on their side ready to privatize public services, offer contracts, subsidies, and reduce taxes for the upper income groups. This was music to the ears of lobbyists, Democrat and Republican alike whose task Reagan made easier. The downfall of the Soviet bloc was an even greater boost to corporate lobbyists because they could argue that capitalism has endured the test of time and it is the only option in the world.

The absolute triumph of the market under globalization and neoliberal policies was so prevalent that not even after major scandals involving lobbyists from the 1990s until the present and even the global recession that lasted four years (2007-2011) made any difference to governments and politicians that more regulation was needed to address structural problems owing to laws and regulatory loopholes intended to permit banks, insurance companies and finance capital to amass capital at the risk of undermining capitalism. Because the state (taxpayer money and income transfer from the lower and middle class to the wealthy) was always available to bail out the clients of the lobbyists, why implement a rigid regulatory system, and even after some regulatory measures, why enforce them?

Ideology and Lobbying

The ideological orientation of the individual determines where they stand on lobbying as a detriment to democracy or simply a right of freedom of expression. What are the determinants of such ideological orientation is another topic for analysis, but the “dominant culture”, as projected through the media and educational institutions, plays a major role. Academic works rooted in classical Liberal or neoliberal thought about lobbying try to justify it in the same manner as the Supreme Court, using the First Amendment issue as the pretext for influence peddling by corporate interests. While the Supreme Court provides the legitimacy of lobbying and apologists of the system justify it using various ideological and political arguments, in the last analysis it is the power of capital that makes lobbying the force that it is in society.

Politicians, academics, the media and lobbyists argue that lobbying is simply another dimension of public affairs and a reflection of “democracy in action”. After all, environmental, gay rights, universities, the elderly via AARP, and all sorts of groups are just as free to lobby as are big banks and defense companies. Of course, the issue is one of scale and resources when comparing Wall Street to educational, social and environmental groups. Moreover, it is also one of institutional and ideological commitment to preserve the status quo and faithfully serve capital because politicians view capitalist lobbies as contributing to the economy, while the AARP, educational, social, and environmental lobbies are generally deemed as “costing” the economy. In essence, however, the real costs result from lobbying that seeks direct and indirect monetary privileges from the state so it does not contribute its share to the fiscal system.

Lobbyists have such power that it is difficult for a political candidate to win office going against powerful capitalists who have the means to finance campaigns and buy influence at all branches and all levels of government. Similarly, it is difficult for journalists, academics, think tanks and consultants to speak out against corporate lobbying because they know corporate interests enjoy wide influence in everything from and arts and universities seeking grants and foundation funds to the media interested in promoting the neoliberal ideology that results in capital accumulation. Individual self interest dictates that one remain silent at the very least, or join the lobbying crusade at most because behind it is big capital.

It is not the case that apologists of lobbying are ignorant of how money buys influence and leaves out the rest of society, any more than it is much of any issue that the vast majority of apologists are acting out of ideological convictions instead of simple self interest. While most of them have something to say about improving the lobbying landscape so that no single lobby becomes too powerful and limits are set so that the business of lobbying is well managed, all of them believe this is the way to conduct business and they view lobbying as another business investment for which society will have to pay the cost.

Operating within the framework of the liberal democratic system, reformers argue that there must be regulatory mechanisms of lobbying to prevent corruption, fraud, absence of disclosure, and conspiracy, all things people in a modern open society associate with authoritarian regimes. This has been the position of reformers from the late 19th century until the present. Meanwhile, all efforts from the Progressive Era until the present to “reform” the lobbying networks have failed if we judge by the fact that lobbyists often set the perimeters of legislation and Congress simply votes to affirm the choice of the lobbies.

Reformers advocating “fixing the broken system” are actually much more dangerous than right wingers or neoliberal apologists of lobbying who blatantly defend it and believe democracy is nothing more than a vehicle for capital accumulation and concentration, and anything against this is simply “un-American”.  Reformers are dangerous because they deceive the public into believing there is hope under the existing system despite 150 years of experience that lobbying is an integral part of the political institutional structure and at its core.

Critics that want to abolish lobbying altogether include not just those on the left of the ideological and political spectrum, but some on the right who feel that politicians should be catering to capital without the need for lobbies that add to the cost of business. Entitled “Corruption, American Style”, aFORBES article (1/22/2009) argues that lobbying is not much different than “Third World corruption” where narcotics and other illegal activities are an integral part of the economy. Con men, swindlers and cheaters pay bribes. Sophisticates hire lobbyists because lobbyists get better, more lasting results while only rarely landing in the slammer. We know intuitively that bribery and lobbying are related, and there are reams of academic papers that try to draw the line between legitimate issue advocacy and corruption.”

Beyond the liberal-reformist argument regarding transparency, the issue that some conservative critics are raising is that lobbying in itself constitutes a form of corruption because select companies make payments to select politicians in exchange for specific favors granted. Again, it is not that critics from the right want capitalism weakened, but that they want no cost of passing legislation accrued to capitalists for such work must be carried out by politicians without a quid pro quo. There is also the issue of inter-sector competition involved here. For example, if the pharmaceutical lobby prevails it means that this sector takes a larger share of the economic pie because the rest of the business sectors must pay more in insurance costs to cover health care. If the Israeli lobby prevails, as it does over all other foreign lobbies, then it has a distinct and unfair advantage.

Without a doubt, there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the US where the image the media, politicians and opinion makers project is that official and private sector corruption is something that takes place in Africa, Latin America and Asia, but rarely in the advanced countries. While in many countries “baksheesh capitalism” is a way of life, the US decries such practice while it has legalized and institutionalized a system far worse in the form of lobbying. Whether an Egyptian businessman offers bribes to finance ministry officials to avoid paying taxes or the US corporate lobbies and exchange favors in order to strike a deal with congress and the White House to have a much lower tax rate for repatriation of their overseas profits the net result is exactly the same. In fact, I would argue that lobbying in the US, as well as Europe where it is just as widespread, is as a far more dangerous form of legalized bribery because it presents itself as an integral part of “democracy”.

Arguing that it is not possible reform a system that at its core has corruption as its mode of operation, leftists see lobbying as another dimension of capitalism. Leftist critics who want to abolish lobbying maintain that it is a reflection of the political economy and itself an industry that has a corrosive effect on representative democracy because its operations are intended to have the entire political system catering to the financial elites in society. The issue for these critics is not that the environmental lobby spent $5 million on congressmen while oil and gas lobbyists spent $25 million, so one buys less influence than the other. The issue is lobbying as a reflection of class interests must be abolished because the only ones served are the rich and those whose interested are undermined the poor who have no one representing them.

If people wish to defend “Constitutionally-protected” bribery legalized within the lobbying system that is their choice, but they can hardly argue that there is much difference between this system and the one they criticize in Russia or Turkey, for example, where a millionaire bribes public officials. It is true that in the US lobbying is more subtle than the crude bribery methods of other countries. Former officials from the State Department, Defense, Commerce and other agencies become consultants who in turn lobby on behalf of foreign governments and multinational corporations.

Realistically, there is no chance of abolishing lobbying, so reform is about the only option. Campaign finance reform is an issue that comes up every time there is an election as is the role of lobbyists. Unfortunately, nothing has ever been done about this for decades to eliminate the aura of suspicion surrounding lobbying. Yet, there are countless academic and media journals, and books hammering the same old argument about campaign finance reform as though “reforming” corruption, decadence, and deals between lobbyists and politicians will somehow transform it into the panacea of the political system. The “reform” measures that have been passed from George Washington until have done absolutely nothing. After the Supreme Court lifted limits on campaign contributions in the case ofMcCutcheon v. FEC in April 2014, The Washington Post ran a story about campaign reform in the last two centuries, essentially detailing the futility of reform that in the public mind means improving that which is decadent and corrupt by nature.

Identifying the Lobbyists.

In 2014, there were 11,800 “registered” lobbying groups and they collectively spent $3.4 billion on behalf of their clients. The “official registered” number of US lobbyists is about one-third of their counterparts in Brussels lobbying the EU for favors on behalf of banks and tech companies to energy and commercial fishing. Although lobbying is a brokerage service industry operating under the guise of “informing” Congress and government agencies, it represents the symbiotic relationship between the state and the private sector. To have a better view of how lobbying is actually dominant in the political arena, we need to examine some American lobbyists well known for providing “symbiosis” between government and the private sector.

John Podesta, famous for his connection with both the Clinton and Obama administrations, describes from an overview perspective his company’s services as follows:  Our clients range from small, cutting-edge companies to global corporations, sovereign nations to local municipalities, trade associations to non-profits, and our solutions and strategies for achieving all of their policy goals are innovative and smart. Bloomberg Businessweek calls the Podesta Group a “Beltway Blackbelt,” we call ourselves an unmatched team of policy experts that brings decades of experience in all corners of the federal government, and on the campaign trail to bear. We work with Capitol Hill policymakers, recruit third-party allies, connect with the media and build coalitions to champion our clients’ agendas – in short, we know how to get things done.”

Besides serving as chief of staff for Bill Clinton and Counselor to Obama, Podesta head of one of the largest lobbying companies, chairs the Hilary Clinton campaign for 2016. He is one of the key people in the Democrat think tank Center for American Progressand a visiting scholar at Georgetown University where other lobbyists have and still are working, just to add a bit of academic legitimacy to a profession that in essence acts as a broker for big business and foreign governments.  Although Podesta is a Democrat and used the party to advance his lobbying business, he will lobby for any corporation no matter its political affiliation.

There are of course many Republican lobbying firms that are even more blatant in their ties with government than Democrats. In January 2011, Utah Senator Mike Lee hired an energy lobbyist to be his chief of staff, raising questions about such a direct link between politicians and lobbyists.  According to the Salt Lake Tribune: “They have also both (the senator and his chief of staff Spencer Stokes) worked for Energy Solutions and Stokes is still registered to lobby for the nuclear services company, which operates a radioactive waste landfill in Utah. Stokes is currently registered to lobby for 18 organizations in the state, including the Utah League of Credit Unions; Management & Training Corp., a private prison company; and a number of energy interests, including utilities and the Utah Association of Energy Users.” Huffington Post, January 3, 2011)

Senator Lee was honest enough to acknowledge through his actions that his office belonged to corporate interests, even while he was in office, no matter what critics thought of him. Other politicians wait until they actually leave office to go to work as lobbyists. This was the case with former Senators Trent Lott (Republican) and John Breaux (Democrat). In 2008, their lobbying firm made one million dollars, which was a mere 13% of their income for the year, serving such a diverse group of clients as AT&T, Northrop Grumman, Nissan North America, Tyson Foods and Shell Oil.  According to published reports, the Lott-Breaux lobbying firm actually delivered no service to these companies, and this was by no means the only lobbying firm doing nothing but receiving money from corporate clients who simply wanted these firms on their side. Despite their rather conservative leanings on foreign policy, one of their clients was Russian-owned Gazprombank, Russia’s third largest bank controlled by the Russian state-owned Gazprom energy company against which U.S. imposed sanctions in July 2014. (“Empty Disclosure” by Lindsay Renick Mayer, March 19, 2009; OpenSecrets.org)

For decades, the tobacco lobby enjoyed such massive influence over politicians that it was difficult to secure label warnings, curbs on advertising and marketing campaign through various means from paying motion picture producers to have actors smoke like chimneys to other stealthy means of projecting an image that smoking was great for stress relief and did not cause cancer. When it became too costly for government (taxpayers) and insurance companies as well as employers paying part of the cost for their employees to subsidize cigarette smokers owing to health care costs, then the government began to regulate.

Of course, the massive lawsuits against tobacco companies also helped in this regard. The tobacco lobby represents but one aspect of how very narrow interests intended to maximize profit work against the welfare of the entire society, and how money buys political influence until other capitalist interests converge to oppose the lobby promoting its own cause. The tobacco lobby spent at least $22 million in lobbying in 2014 compared with $73 million in 1998. This does not include money spent by individuals companies on individual political campaigns.

The history of the tobacco lobby may reveal a lot about the “junk food and beverage” industry lobby because of healthcare costs as the common factor. The only political counterweight to powerful lobbying within the context of the market system is the convergence of other capitalist interests against a specific sector that cuts into the profits of several others. It is very revealing that it is not the welfare of the people that government takes into account but inter-sector competition.

Who Benefits from Lobbies?

In 2012, billionaire Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney revealed that he was taxed at the rate of 14percent. Romney’s tax rate was considerably lower than 47% of Americans who pay higher taxes but do not have the income and assets of billionaires like Romney. This absurdity in poorer people paying tax rates than the rich is the result of lobbying. In 2010, the Sunlight Foundation conducted a study to determine how lobbying yields benefits to corporations. The result is that America’s largest companies enjoyed a tax reduction amounting to $11 billion in 2010 when compared with 2007. The study concludes that return on the lobbying investment on behalf of the companies involved was a staggering 2000%. (“Lobby More, Pay Less” by Lee Drutman. 16 April 2012 Sunlight Foundation.)

Besides the direct tax savings as a result from lobbying activities, corporations also benefit indirectly through subsidies that the government provides for some of the largest companies, including General Electric, Boeing and others of similar magnitude. Such subsidies are not only at the federal level, but also at the state and local levels amounting to billions of dollars annually, all of it in the name of neoliberalism but in essence corporate welfare.

To maintain a plant in Seattle Washington where the model Boeing 777X is made the Boeing Corporation received a staggering $8.7 billion in tax subsidy from the state as a result of lobbying. In addition to lower taxes and corporate subsidies that account for the phenomenon of corporate welfare, corporations also enjoy reduced regulation as a result of lobbying. For example, the food and beverage industry valued at more than one trillion dollars has been lobbying against regulatory measures that would reduce the rate of obesity and the ensuing costs to the health care system. With one-third of the population suffering from obesity and 17% of children, currently the US is number one among advanced nations. Because it is very profitable to make derivative food products from soy and corn used in junk foods, the food/beverage industry has spent enormous amounts on lobbying and campaign contributions to make certain there is no regulatory regime that obstructs this trend.

For large corporations in the domain of energy – coal, natural gas and oil – as well as chemical and pharmaceutical industries, lobbying is important to maximize profit by lowering costs owing to environmental regulation. The banking industry is just as active in lobbying government to permit greater freedom of its activities. (Mathew Sherman, “A Short History of Financial Deregulation in the United States”. Center for Economic Policy Research, 2009). As a result of lobbying efforts, Republicans and Democrats proceeded with banking deregulation in 1994. The result was the banking crisis of 2008 when the banks brought down not just the US economy but the world economy. All the risk rested with the taxpayers while the profits went to the bank executives and wealthy investors.

Deregulation meant massive bank profits at the cost of destabilizing the economy, but it does not stop there. Banks have been used as conduits to transfer billions in black market money emanating from narcotics to massive and chronic bribing involving FIFA international soccer games. The Justice Department’s FIFA investigation is looking into how Wall Street, including CITI and J.P. Morgan, were involved in the multi-million dollar money laundering operations of FIFA. Despite the hundreds of billions that banks have paid in fines and despite the crash of 2008, which started with Lehman Brothers in late 2007, they continue to lobby for less regulation and prevailing because of the money they spend to buy political influence.

Besides corporations deriving benefits as a result of lobbying, one of the most controversial lobbies in modern history is that representing Israel. One reason for its preeminent influence has been the combination of media, political and business support as well as voting power that make it very difficult for any politician to resist its pressures. Although the Israeli lobby acts on behalf of a foreign government, its success is that it presents its agenda as “the national interest of the US”, as though the US is an appendage of Israel and not a sovereign nation. Through its alliances with right-wing and Christian fundamentalist influence peddlers, and especially with defense industry and its lobbyists, the Israeli lobby has been able to create what many critics and supporters believe is the most powerful lobby organization in American history. One reason is the reluctance of most people to criticize because of fear they may be labeled anti-Semites. The question is whether this has helped to further the broader interests of the US or harmed them by helping to drag the country into regional Middle East conflicts and costing American taxpayers trillions of dollars from the 1940s to the present.

In September 2004, a number of media outlets dealt with the Israeli lobby and its links to Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. Fellow neo-conservatives well-connected with the Jewish lobby, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz made sure Feith secured the Pentagon job, though it is not known the degree to which they were involved with the Israeli lobby and handing over official confidential documents to Israelis. Feith and his office were involved in an intelligence breach compromising US foreign and defense policy, but a pro-Israel administration refused to move forward with the case.

Neo-cons, some of whom are Jewish, were well connected to vice president Dick Cheney’s office and to ultra-right wing Christian fundamentalists, all defenders of the Israeli lobby. Although the Justice Department investigated Feith and his office staff, it never found him guilty of anything. However, the issue is much larger than the specific perimeters of this case involving Feith who went on to work for pro-Israel causes including lobbying against the US-Iran nuclear deal. At the core of the controversial Israeli lobby is not the lobbyists working on behalf of the government in Tel Aviv under the cover of American conservatism, but U.S. foreign policy.

Politicians, the media, and pundits analyzing/propagating in the media have no problem with the Israeli lobby, focusing instead on China and its rising influence through lobbying efforts. There are many books and articles on the controversial Israeli lobby that many regard as sacrosanct and others decry as a situation where a tiny country largely determines US foreign policy from Truman to the present. The Israeli lobby is not the only one influencing US policy, and it must not be used as a pretext for the structural problems of lobbying. There are many other foreign lobbies pushing for everything from improved trade to arms deals and economic aid. One reason that the governments of Taiwan and Kuwait funded most of the Memorial Day activities in Washington in 2015 is because they want continued preferential treatment from US in trade, investment, foreign and defense policy.

The foreign lobbying process involving millions of dollars exchanging hands means that policy is not made based on the merits of the case, but on who pays and who does not. As the case of Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux illustrate, these people are hired guns for just about anyone that the US government would permit as “legitimate”. The issue of money is at heart of the Israeli lobby as well as less influential ones that know the way to buy policy is to pay for it and use other lobbies, especially the defense industry

In 2007 the Justice Department reported there were approximately 1,700 lobbyists representing more than 100 countries before Congress, the White House and the federal government all required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).  The Department of Justice has never enforced FARA evenly, and only used it when targeting countries it does not favor. Such selective enforcement of FARA is a reflection of the overall policy toward lobbying. The bottom line here is that the absence of political will results in the absence of enforcement of the law because the goal is to perpetuate a lobbying system that perpetuates the political regime serving the existing political economy and social structure.

Conclusions

All efforts at reform have come after the failure of some well-known lobbyists were involved in scandals or failing to register as such, or disclosing their firm represents foreign governments and they did not register as foreign agents. In 2006, Jack Abramoff, one of the most powerful lobbyists pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, corruption and conspiracy. This was a very big case that revealed the depth of corruption in the business. U.S. Government Accountability Office research of lobbying acknowledges that regardless of laws and enforcement, the system is flawed. During the Clinton administration, for example, of the 13,500 people lobbying Congress, 10,000 were not even registered as such! This does not include individuals working for corporations that lobby politicians individually.

Although this is hardly intended as an excuse, lobbying is not something that takes place only in the US. The European Union has its own set of problems with various forms of lobbying ranging from cronyism to money directly from companies and wealthy individuals to politicians in all countries from France to Greece. In some respects, the EU is as bad if not worse than the US, which simply confirms that lobbying is a universal phenomenon under capitalism and hardly a unique political or cultural trait in America. According to Transparency International only 7 out 19 EU countries even have laws and regulations on lobbying, and most of that is not working.

This explains everything from tax breaks for the rich to massive capital transfers and illegal activities involving money changing hands from businesses to politicians and public officials. This is not a problem confined to the periphery southern and Eastern European countries, but actually found at the northwest core countries where capitalism thrives and where most of the corruption takes place because of the headquarters for some of the world’s largest banks and multinational corporations with a history of corruption. When we trace the money trail that finds its way to politicians, government ministers and public officials, we realize that legislation and regulatory measures pass because “greased wheels” are behind it.

Nevertheless, EU politicians like their US counterparts try their very best to argue that everything they do, including tax reductions and tax loopholes for the wealthy “is best for society” and there is no other way. There are an estimated 30,000 lobbyists in EU headquarters Brussels, Belgium spending more than one billion euros to buy political influence. Their influence over policy impacting everything from trade and monetary policy to energy and shipping is estimated at 75%.  (UK The Guardian, May 8, 2014) The interesting thing about all of this is that the EU taxpayers are actually subsidizing the lobbyists who secure subsidies for their clients.

The issues before critics of lobbying include transparency, consumer protection, degradation of the environment, health and safety, equal access to politicians, and a regulatory regime that is intended to result in enforceable and ethical conduct on the part of both lobbyists and those in government. This is the reformist camp of critics that has its ideological roots in the late 19thcentury when the Industrial Revolution and finance capitalism needed to enjoy greater control of public policy so they could realize greater profits. Reformers believe in rationalizing capitalism so it can work best in a pluralistic society where the middle class needs protection, especially in the 21st century when communications means are so readily available and it is difficult to conceal the role of lobbies.

Businesses and foreign governments create coffers and slush funds to elect or reelect politicians, or at least influence their voting on specific issues or to prevent measures from passing because they would cut into their profits. Through political action committees and through loopholes and favors from politicians, lobbyists provide the financing and media influence politicians need to win or stay in office. Most of this is legal, some of it is not and we do not know to what degree, but the lobbying system as a whole is a reflection of how the political economy operates. Lobbying is built into the capitalist system to further strengthen and concentrate capital and maintain the social order. Efforts of reformers to rationalize the economy and balance interests of various sectors of production along with the interests of social classes in order to maintain a pluralistic society that politicians can still call “democracy” are a distraction for the benefit of the public that needs to believe we live in a democracy.”

 

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Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

(He is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, served 32 years. A veteran of ‘1971 Indo-Pak War,’ has been instructor in officers’ Pakistan Military Academy, commanded Divisional as well as Corps Artillery. He writes frequently and traveled to Europe, America, Middle East and Far East.)

““The Supreme Court doctrine of lobbying for the last several years is a history of dicta, footnotes, and Constitutional avoidance.” …Zephyr Teachout

I would briefly comment, not necessarily in given sequence of the questionnaire as dealing with one would mean having rubbed with another as well. The topic is certainly challenging that provokes lively debate about the narrative, particularly when Jaime Ortega has given very powerful introductory remarks to project the degree of anguish some US citizens approach ‘lobbying’ with, labeling it, the worst kind of corruption.

The lobbying legality haunts moralists as well as idealists alike to raise these questions whether other Western countries have such vice or virtue, called lobbying. (Un) fortunately the query can be set at rest when we come across an anomaly that survives between US and rest of the Western democracies about its scale and spirit where peoples’ ‘rights’ have precedence over all aspects of the governance.

The constitutional significance and centrality that the ‘rights’ aspect has achieved through US history is unprecedented, even though lobbying had been an illegal pursuit until recently in the US history in several of its states. Now the game has gone full blown. Nestled on DC’s K Street, the lobbyist earn $ 3.5 billion, marking 7/8 percent growth each year that does not include the money which corporate giants pump into politicians’ campaign chest.

US Corruption Score of 74, an honorable one, still leads Sam Becker to comment, “The fact is, the U.S. does have a great deal of corruption in many forms, like lobbying, bribery, gerrymandering, and bought elections. But according to the corruption index, the U.S. pales in comparison to countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.”

Some credible scholars like Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have dwelt on a particular lobby which leaves no space to disagree that the US politicians are stained by the practice like any other corrupt one. The two did draw huge flak but then they were equally praised by vast group of scholars. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to US President Jimmy Carter, observed: “Mearsheimer and Walt adduce a great deal of factual evidence…”

I have limited journalistic prerogative when distrust among us is rampant but I would say that the lobbying would flourish even more as does the debate and skepticism among the Americans about its legality because those who need to knock it out are the main beneficiaries themselves. Interestingly its legitimacy hinges on a very delicate clause that requires one to be a law ‘guru’.

To quote the paradigm complication, Supreme Court observation of 1950 and Alex Mayyasi’s comment would suffice as a concluding remark, “The Supreme Court heard two cases regarding the law in the 1950s. In its decision on Congress’s ability to mandate lobbyist disclosures, the justices, Teachout wrote, “do not directly address the constitutionality of lobbying, [but] they strongly hint at a constitutionally protected right.” Although Teachout argues that the court did not address why such a right existed, nor its scope, she concludes that after the cases, “lobbying [was] presumptively protected in the American legal imagination.””

 

Claude Nougat. 

(Passionate traveller (80 countries+) 25 years experience in United Nations: project evaluation specialist; FAO Director for Europe/Central Asia)

– Is the US the only western country where Lobbying is legal?

 No, it is routinely done in Europe – everywhere from London to Berlin, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Athens, Ankara and Moscow. You name it. Everywhere there is lobbying and it often degenerates into outright corruption. In Italy (where I live), the political class is universally despised, it’s called “the caste”…

 – Do you believe Lobbying should be legal? Is a legal form of bribery right for democracy?

 No. Legalizing lobbying does not help. Lobbying is just the “soft” form of corruption that can go all the way to Mafia-style threats to people’s property and lives.

 – Do these bribes in congress also come from foreign countries also? (China, Saudi Arabia…) 

Yes, and how!

 –  Are politicians accepting ‘briefcases’ the reason why international and national policies have turned the economy, social reforms, foreign policy, besides other programs from experiencing crucial reforms for peoples benefits? 

Exactly right. Our governments are in the hands of the ultra rich and respond to their needs and desires – their beck and call.

 – What would it take to eliminate Lobbying? And would US Citizens see positive results from such reform? 

Make it illegal and pursue it with determination through the justice system. It would also require a determined campaign to educate citizens to their civic rights and duties.

PS: It’s not likely to happen. The system everywhere is already corrupted beyond any possibility of saving it. (That’s just my humble opinion)

 

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Steven Hansen.

(Publisher and Co-founder of Econintersect, is an international business and industrial consultant specializing in turning around troubled business units; consults to governments to optimize process flows; and provides economic indicator analysis based on unadjusted data and process limitations)

“There are two sides of lobbying – one side is to inform while the other side is to manipulate. Informing (or educating) is a good thing whilst the manipulation (aka bribe) is a bad thing.

Politicians in almost all countries are above the law having special rights not bestowed on the masses. Please read Animal Farm. And the costs for a politician to get elected is so high that to get elected – they must sell themselves or realistically they will not get elected. Politics therefore is about the money.

Lobbying is not the cause of the corruption – but an effect of the corruption. There must be a constitutional amendment for election laws which should address:

  • that all campaign contributions and political messages must be divided equally between the candidates (or have all political campaigns funded by the government).
  • that no politician can enjoy a benefit not give to all citizens.
  • term limits (the longer one remains in office, the more corrupt one becomes)

Because of interpretations of existing laws, the only way to minimize corruption is through a constitutional amendment – and good luck with that.

 

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Adil F. Raja. 

(He is an independent Political and Security analyst from Pakistan with a diverse background in Governance, International Relations, Special Ops and International Security/Political Consultancy)

“- Is the US the only western country where Lobbying is legal? 

There seem to be many forms of lobbying and one such example ofearlier this year is of a former Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Ernst Strasser who was given a four year jail sentence for accepting a bribe from a pair of lobbyists in return for making amendments to EU law. The stricter laws in Europe especially  seem to be making lobbying less accepted and delved in. Lobbying was also illegal at one stage in the USA and most studies of lobbying are confined to the United States hence it is difficult to know how lobbying is conducted outside of the country.  

A reason for the difference in lobbying between America and other Western countries is the difference in centralization of decision making in the government. In the United States decision making is divided between the executive and the legislature, and sometimes between the state and national governments. In the majority of Western governments, decision making is highly concentrated in the cabinet executive. What is known is that there is an obvious lack of power balance where in the present system only the financially strong groups delve in lobbying.

– Do you believe Lobbying should be legal? Is a legal form of bribery right for democracy?

Lobbying is nothing but a civilized form of corruption and making it illegal would protect us from a legislation geared towards benefiting corporations and banks. A capitalist society propelled by money and with this form of lobbying in place can never truly be considered a democratic society.

Being a non American from an a country in the subcontinent, the first question that springs to mind is why would anyone not based in the USA care about the present system there?  The reason for this interest is based on the fact that the economy in this whole world is deeply connected to the superpower in this uni-polar world. The same interests makes lobbying a necessity not only at Washington DC, but also around the other capitals of the world.  

– Do these bribes in congress also come from foreign countries also? (China, Saudi Arabia…)

Off course, they do. I mean there are lobbying firms setup legally doing businesses at Washington DC, which are all up for hire. Big interests with big money like Jewish backed, Israel specific AIPAC is the biggest example of said unethical lobbying practices. Likewise, other countries also pay up big bucks to these lobbying firms for their own vested interests. These firms in turn lobby through the established practice of legal bribes to the political machinery at US.     

– Are politicians accepting ‘briefcases’ the reason why international and national policies have turned the economy, social reforms, foreign policy, besides other programs from experiencing crucial reforms for peoples benefits?

Not wholly, but a large onus lays upon these “brief cases” you talk about. Political pressures also do matter, but then public opinions are shaped through global corporate media lobbying, which again brings the whole scenario down to the “brief cases”.

– What would it take to eliminate Lobbying? And would US Citizens see positive results from such reforms? 

I can’t say anything would beat this lucrative business involving billions of dollars in bribes generating trillions of dollars of revenues for the clients. If anything does change this system of nepotism and organized bribery, not only the US population, but majority of global population would surely benefit with the realization of such a fantasy.”

 

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    Ami Vider.

( He is a social networking and blogging professionals. Since 2006 he has been advising, writing, editing and publishing blogs for technology companies. In addition, he trains and advises top executives in the use of social media for marketing and image promotion)

“1. The US is not the only “western” country where lobbying is legal. As mentioned before, Israel accept the same type of advice from outside people who often influence the way laws are written and the parliamentary committee discussions are conducted.

2. Lobbying should be legal. I believe the basic drive in making lobbying legal is based on knowing who lobbies and how they are informing government in their specialty domain. Without approved lobbyists, we are going back to the days when rich aristocracy influenced royalty. The fear of the rich getting what they want goes back to the earliest days of government. Even in biblical times descriptions of relatives and influential citizens close to the king are worrisome. This assumes we want a true democratic (i.e. representative) decision making process in government.

3. Bribes in the Israeli government certainly originate from outside sources. The recent Olmert case (a former prime minister) was based on bribes coming from foreign sources as a form of help and personal reward to Olmert and people around him. There are countless allegations of international bribes in many governments, not limited to western countries. In the middle east many citizens assume some foreign influence, when it becomes too obvious there is concern. Former Israeli representatives and government officials (especially mayors and non-elected officials) are always suspect. Especially when they leave government positions and “suddenly” jump into a lucrative corporate position or non-profit organization which affords them a luxurious lifestyle.

4. Bribes and other form of elitists influence are always suspect in guiding politicians away from what seems to be “democratically” driven agendas. In Israel not only social reforms, but also other government changes are strangely “guided” by invisible hands. There is a strange case of ports of entry unionized workers. For decades holding up reforms in shipping procedures and even blamed on the high cost of imported goods. The holding back of privatizing sea and air ports is essentially driven not by true changes to unionized workers’ conditions as much as by large private corporations benefiting from aging infrastructure and management systems. In Israel protests over many social inequity issues have not changed materially either government policies or true government spending.

5. Lobbying could turn into a “open source” (as in computer software) process. Where people and organization of influence are required to publish their “inputs” to government when they are submitted to elected government officials. Also, lobbying should be completely forbidden to non-elected officials. This idea of making non-elected officials a “protected class” is not new. Government in the past, and even today, have a class of workers who are essentially trained and qualified in specific area of expertise. It may be lawyers and accountants who are professionally qualified by their organization (pass a qualification process with testing and training requirements).

This issue is neither simple nor easily changed. Yet citizens can and should insist on changes. Otherwise, as in past civilizations, a tear in trust and hope between the classes (or interest groups) will slowly erode social structure and will lead to destruction. I am sure, the Romans, Chinese and Egyptians, with a thousand year long civilization history did not worry about their future a century before their demise. Are we at the same point in time? Only time will tell.”

 

Jaime Ortega-Simo. 

(The Daily Journalist president and founder) 

“I think, the biggest problem with lobbying comes with the level of transparency legalized bribes package when privately spoken to members of congress. Does it truly benefit people, the congressman or the industry? What exactly are the conditions? And more importantly, do the people who voted for these political supervisors to campaign their trust approve what is spoken secretly in the congressmen’s dispatch?

Tyson and Monsanto’s food Inc’s, lobbied hard in Washington DC to take individual farmers growing organic foods out the market by pressuring the FDA, to use a certain chemical to grow poultry faster and transforming it into a law that would severely affect farmers growing cows and chickens without hormones. Was that really fair? It was fair to Tyson, and Monsanto’s but not if you advocate for organic food rights.

As Salmonella Heidelberg cases grow faster than ever before in the US, Foster Farms was caught in the middle of the breakout several times in the past without the CDC imposing restrictions in production adding higher precautionary methods to control the disease from spreading. The soft FFSS laws with its poor inspection standards, with addition to heavy lobbying have to a great degree allowed Foster Farm factories to retain their production without eliminating entire chains of chicken infected that cause Salmonella Heidelberg. Is that fair for the consumer? I mean, the answer is not physics!

I remember a few years back when Obama campaigned against the NRA, who then witnessed how powerful their influence remains in congress, who not long after lighty apologized for his words not mentioning the issue of gun control ever again. The US has a crime issue that is considerably high for a western democracy. Would the US murder rate considerably drop if guns were more restrictive for public use? I think so, the majority of US citizens think so too…but the Tea Party, the NRA, and a few gun owners disagree. Is that fair?

I can go on and on…with several different cases related with other important issues, but there is much to discuss.

The point is that lobbying possesses the power to change public demand from reforming the law. With that said, lobbying is legal and I am certain, that not ‘all’ lobbying is conducted illegally. But just like communism and democracy have a hard time dating, capitalism and democracy have polar opposite agendas. People’s right to choose and vote should not be altered by anyone opposing it with ‘financial means’— if that is the case, well! let’s also make stealing legal because that is what plenty of lobbies do with people’s public demands as these lobbyist hi-jack the public requests to supply their own interest thanks to a few greedy congressmen.

Not an advocate for lobbying, but truth be told, not all lobbying is bad…just 70%. It should be more transparent, and the fact that is not, already tells me it hides something from people.”

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