Summary: With Campaign 2016 America passes into new hands. It’s a capstone to the slow political revolution by the 1% since 1970 (the Boomers’ legacy). Before we vote, let’s remember the steps that brought us here. Such as the growth of corporate lobbying, whose success shows that our government is for sale at discount prices. These articles describe how this happened in plain sight –while we played.
By Jeff Madrick in the New York Review of Books.
In the 7 April 2016 issue. Posted with permission.
“On President Obama’s first day in office in 2009, he issued an executive order to close “the revolving door” between government and the private sector by restricting the hiring of any registered lobbyists for positions in his administration. But Obama himself eventually hired at least seventy lobbyists, many of whom then returned to lobbying after a stint in his administration. So much for Obama’s campaign pledge that he would “tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.” The executive order has since been dropped, and the number of business lobbyists in Washington has continued rising rapidly.
“Taking jabs at the profession remains a popular sport, even among Republicans. Donald Trump claimed at one of the Republican debates this fall that he would not talk to lobbyists once elected. Jeb Bush said that he would not let any more into Washington’s halls of power. The question remains: How much influence on Washington’s agenda do business lobbyists have?
“A book titled The Business of America is Lobbying by a highly regarded Washington watchdog, Lee Drutman, is therefore welcome, especially during a new presidential season. It takes some wading through Drutman’s disorganized prose and his sometimes ambivalent feelings about lobbying to find his main messages. But there are two crucial points that are disturbing. The first is that business spends $34 on lobbying for every dollar spent by likely opponents such as labor unions and other interest groups.
“The second point is, I think, Drutman’s most important. It may once have been adequate for lobbyists to provide business clients access to the right people. Today, however, they also must develop expertise on major political issues, so that they can provide policymakers with research, draft legislation, and pass on up-to-the-minute information. Lobbyists, not staffers, concludes Drutman, are now the major source of information for Congress and the executive branch on major legislative issues. In one survey, two thirds of congressional staffers said they depend on lobbyists for the information they need to make legislative decisions and pass bills. Thus lobbying grows because Congress, and often the executive branch, needs lobbyists.
“To sum up Drutman’s main theme, there is a large imbalance of both lobbying money and expertise that enables lobbyists to influence much of the Washington agenda today. Drutman believes this influence must be trimmed, and he proposes a number of reforms to address the asymmetry of money and expertise — including a new public lobby — that I believe may be effective and will discuss below. But none of Drutman’s proposals has been discussed in the presidential campaigns thus far. …”
Read the full review at the NYRB (gated).
For more about this revolution, see this article by Lee Drutma. It is a good introduction to his book.
By Lee Drutman in The Atlantic, 20 April 2015.
“Business didn’t always have so much power in Washington.”
“Something is out of balance in Washington. Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures — more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million). It’s a gap that has been widening since corporate lobbying began to regularly exceed the combined House-Senate budget in the early 2000s.
“Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.
“The self-reinforcing quality of corporate lobbying has increasingly come to overwhelm every other potentially countervailing force. One has to go back to the Gilded Age to find business in such a dominant political position in American politics.
“While it is true that even in the more pluralist 1950s and 1960s, political representation tilted towards the well-off, lobbying was almost balanced by today’s standards. Labor unions were much more important, and the public-interest groups of the 1960s were much more significant actors. And very few companies had their own Washington lobbyists prior to the 1970s.
To the extent that businesses did lobby in the 1950s and 1960s (typically through associations), they were clumsy and ineffective. “When we look at the typical lobby,” concluded three leading political scientists in their 1963 study, American Business and Public Policy, “we find its opportunities to maneuver are sharply limited, its staff mediocre, and its typical problem not the influencing of Congressional votes but finding the clients and contributors to enable it to survive at all.”
“Things are quite different today. The evolution of business lobbying from a sparse reactive force into a ubiquitous and increasingly proactive one is among the most important transformations in American politics over the last 40 years. Probing the history of this transformation reveals that there is no “normal” level of business lobbying in American democracy. Rather, business lobbying has built itself up over time, and the self-reinforcing quality of corporate lobbying has increasingly come to overwhelm every other potentially countervailing force. It has also fundamentally changed how corporations interact with government — rather than trying to keep government out of its business (as they did for a long time), companies are now increasingly bringing government in as a partner, looking to see what the country can do for them.”
Read the full article to see how this political revolution took place, and how it reshaped America.
The increased scale and power of corporate lobbyists is one dimension of institutional changes accompanying the rise of the 1%. The one percent are a gravitational force at the center of America. As their power grows, the orbits of America’s institutions change. They are still changing. At some point the changes will become irreversible.
The 1% laugh while we enjoy the festivities of Circus 2016. The cost we pay is loss of irreplaceable time.
For More Information
- Why the 1% is winning, and we are not.
- How the 1% runs America. Runs us. The answer points to 2 futures for us.
- The 1% build a New America on the ruins of the old.
- Much of what we love about America was true only for a moment.
- The 1% won a counter-revolution while we played.