Buying influence?

compiled & edited by Daniel Hagadorn

LOBBYISTS: Because it’s hard for politicians to decide stuff on their own.

“The legislature, like the executive, has ceased, save indirectly, to be even the creature of the people: it is the creature, in the main, of pressure groups, and most of them, it must be manifest, are of dubious wisdom and even more dubious honesty. Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle—a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism.” —H. L. Mencken, American Mercury (May 1930).

The unseemly influence of lobbyists is not just unconstitutional—it threatens the very freedom of our republic. Moreover, unless their influence is restrained, it will no longer matter which party wins elections because everything will always remain “business as usual.”

From 1998 to 2010, lobbyists spent[1]

  • In 1998, 10,404 lobbyists spent $1,439,464,755 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 1999, 12,943 lobbyists spent $1,436,635,787 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2000, 12,541 lobbyists spent $1,559,421,252 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2001, 11,845 lobbyists spent $1,639,649,358 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2002, 12,131 lobbyists spent $1,818,367,362 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2003, 12,923 lobbyists spent $2,039,395,243 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2004, 13,158 lobbyists spent $2,168,501,066 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2005, 14,070 lobbyists spent $2,433,007,827 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2006, 14,516 lobbyists spent $2,619,690,920 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2007, 14,868 lobbyists spent $2,853,727,852 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2008, 14,218 lobbyists spent $3,297,012,640 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2009, 13,666 lobbyists spent $3,488,215,793 to influence politicians and policy.
  • In 2010, 12,340 lobbyists spent $2,481,270,683 to influence politicians and policy.

From 1998 to 2010, the highest spending lobbyist organizations were[2]

1. U.S. Chamber of Commerce = $687,845,680

2. American Medical Association (AMA) = $238,367,500

3. General Electric = $229,340,000

4. Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America = $190,243,920

5. American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) = $188,632,064

6. American Hospital Association = $188,378,431

7. AT&T Inc. = $158,647,725

8. Northrop Grumman = $155,515,253

9. Blue Cross/Blue Shield = $153,003,389

10. National Association of Realtors = $151,217,380

11. Exxon Mobil = $148,866,942

12. Verizon Communications = $145,194,841

13. Edison Electric Institute = $143,795,999

14. Business Roundtable = $139,204,000

15. Lockheed Martin = $132,410,193

16. Boeing Co. = $131,253,310

17. PG&E Corp. = $117,010,000

18. Southern Co. = $113,560,694

19. General Motors = $113,379,170

20. Pfizer Inc. = $103,477,268

The brilliant economist Walter Williams addressed this issue back in 2006[3]

Despite the fact that members of Congress routinely pledge to “examine and act on any necessary changes to improve transparency and accountability for our body when it comes to lobbying”—lobbying NEVER becomes more transparent and NEVER becomes more accountable.

Why do corporations, unions, and other special interest groups “invest” billions of dollars in political campaigns? Is it just because the members of these groups are extraordinarily civic-minded Americans who have a deep interest in Congress performing their responsibilities in accordance with the U.S. Constitution? Could it be that these various groups and their Washington-based lobbying arms—which number in the thousands—simply love participating in the political process? Only the residents of “Lollypops-Unicorns-and Rainbow” land could answer affirmatively to either question.

The likely explanation for the billions being donated to the campaigns of Washington politicians lies in the unprecedented growth of government control—over business, property, employment, and numerous other areas of our lives. Consequently, since members of Congress possess this power, they are in a position to grant favors. The greater their power to grant favors, the greater the value of being able to influence Congress–and there is no better influence than money.

Lobbyists are perpetually seeking generic favors by convincing Congress, under one pretense or another, to grant a privilege or right to one group of Americans that will be denied another group of Americans. A variant of this privilege is to persuade Congress to do something that would be criminal if done privately.

For example, imagine that a large corporation employed thugs to illegally prevent people from buying sugar from Caribbean producers so that sugar prices would rise. The rising sugar prices would consequently make it easier for that corporation to sell greater quantities of their product (corn syrup sweetener). Naturally, those responsible for the crime would be arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned. BUT, that same corporation making generous contributions to a particular member of Congress can buy the SAME RESULTS without risking imprisonment. Congress simply does the dirty work for them by enacting sugar import quotas and tariffs.

Put another way, the two most powerful committees in Congress are the House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance committees which are responsible for granting tax favors. Unsurprisingly, their members are flooded with campaign contributions. Why? A tweak here and a tweak there in the tax code could literally represent millions of dollars in profit.

If Congress did ONLY what is specifically enumerated in the Constitution, influence-peddling would become a non-issue because the Constitution provides NO authority for Congress to grant favors or special privileges.

The late Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek was once asked, “If you had the power to write one law that would get government out of our lives, what would that law be?”

Hayek replied that he would write a law that read: “Whatever Congress does for one American it must do for all Americans.” He elaborated: “If Congress makes payments to one American for not raising pigs, every American not raising pigs should also receive payments.”

Obviously, if such a law were ever enacted, members of Congress would largely lose their ability to grant privileges, which in turn, would also diminish corporate influence-peddling.

…But if Congress rejected the “affections” of lobbyists, what would they do with all of that extra time?

…And what would corporations do with all of that extra money they no longer need to spend “romancing” Congress?


[1] Figures were calculated by the Center for Responsive Politics based on data from the Senate Office of Public Records. Data was accessed 26 July 2010. Center for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/index.php.

[2] All lobbying expenditures are based upon the Senate Office of Public Records. Data was accessed  26 July 2010. Center for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?indexType=s.

[3] Walter Williams, “Attacking Lobbyists: The Real Problem is Government’s Ability to Grant ‘Favors’”, Capitalism Magazine (18 January 2006).

2 Responses

  1. Blair Stautz says:

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  2. very good stuff. Do you have an RSS feed? And will it be cool if I added your feed to a blog of mine? I have a site that pulls content out of RSS feeds via a few websites and I would like to include yours, a lot of people don’t mind considering I link back and everything but I like to get approval 1st. Anyhow let me know if you could, thanks,Regards, Jennine Chustz.

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