The New York Times reported on Wednesday that lobbyists are now courting potential Republican chairmen with fundraisers in an effort to create and cement relationships prior to a potential Republican takeover of the House. The White House communications director called this story another sign of Republicans’ “loyalty to these special interests.”
Is that true? In nearly a half dozen major Senate races, candidates have used the issue of lobbyists’ political influence to attack their opponents, with both sides claiming the other is too “cozy” with special interests. So, are lobbyists and lobbying an issue that the next Congress should address? Does one party or movement hold particular sway on the issue of lobbyists and their role in government? Should lobbyists matter to you the voter? The answer to all these questions is a resounding no.
In the two weeks leading up to Congress’s adjournment, little policy was made. Instead, over 400 fundraisers were held. That’s right, Politico reported that so many fundraisers were held in that limited timeframe that one exhausted lobbyist told a reporter, “These last two weeks have just been unbelievable. My contention is the only reason they came back in September was the fundraisers.”
”Lobbying becomes a booming business,” screamed the headline of a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution article examining how Georgia interest groups are ramping up spending on lobbyists. Coca-Cola, for example, spent $6.3 million in the first half of this year, twice what it spent in the first half of last year. The lobbying business is projected to rake in $4 billion this year alone — about a billion more than was spent last year, the year Congress passed sweeping lobbying reform.
So lobbying isn’t the monopoly of one party and it isn’t dying. But is it an issue worth thinking about before you head to the polls?
The answer is no.
The New York Times noted recently that 60 percent of all lobbying yields nothing. Add to that the fact that the next Congress will probably eliminate earmarks, and it’s unlikely that lobbyists will be able to accomplish much at all going forward.
Still, there will always be a relationship between lobbyists and elected officials — it is a constitutional right. A better question is what kind of relationship do we want?
For a long time, lobbyists have received marching orders from clients to solicit targeted projects in the way of earmarks or narrow legislation. That’s precisely why so many candidates refuse to condemn or regulate lobbying that hits close to home: it involves individual interests. But that time is nearly over. Gridlock means less legislation, social media means elected officials can’t just cater to a few who want earmarks, and federal spending has bipartisan ideological enemies.
Voters should ignore simplistic attacks on lobbyists, who are clearly here to stay, and instead spend time looking beyond November 2nd to think strategically about how to restructure our political system in a way that yields maximum returns for the issues we care about.
Maury Litwack is a lobbyist, former Hill staffer and author of the recently published The Capitol Plan – A Comprehensive Washington Advocacy Strategy. He blogs at CapitolPlan.com.