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The Ignored Step in the Lobbying Process January 12, 2010 at 10:14 am

Something has been nagging at me for years. Political lobbying is something we all know about and all hear about in terms of why a bill died in committee or why it’s so crazy so-and-so is now running such-and-such a federal agency because they used to work on K Street or what have you. And I don’t disagree that corporate political lobbying is out-of-control and needs to be checked, but the way we go about doing it, with so-called tougher “ethical standards” leaves out an important part of the lobbying process in my mind.

It’s that pesky word “ethical”.

I understand that nobody is perfect and everyone is bound to have lapses in judgment. But if you were staring at a disfigured child, say from some chemical spill or something, and a congressional bill that would regulate the types of chemical plants that hurt the child and make sure it NEVER, EVER happens again, what would you do? Rip up the bill, or sign it?

I pity anyone who even pauses in answering that question (unless it was to reread the question to make sure you didn’t answer incorrectly, than it’s OK). It’s a no-brainer, you rip up the bill, crumple it up and burn it. Then you take care of the child.

My point is thus: everyone (most everyone) has a pretty good moral compass and, as far as I can tell, is fairly ethical in such an extreme situation (though I’ve never actually met anyone standing in a field with a sick child and a congressional bill, that’d be weird). It doesn’t seem to me that most people that I know (normal “all-American folks”) really need to pause for very long when asked about how someone should be treated, but take that person to Washington, show ‘em a few suitcases of money, and suddenly they don’t give a shit about hard-working people having their houses foreclosed on them, polar bears drowning in ice-free waters, banks and credit cards charging fees loan sharks envy and generally doing a bum job of “representing the people”. Even the “good” ones are corrupted within days. President Obama passed new ethics rules his first week in office, only to break them two days later (it was important to have a former lobbyist running one the federal agencies he was just lobbying, apparently). That’s our knight in shining armor for all things good and noble [/sarcasm].

We make all this noise about how evil and bad corporate lobbyists are, but they’re just part of the political system just as an irate voter at a congressperson’s town-hall meeting is part of the political system. Both are lobbying for things. The corporate lobbyists use large sums of money (very, very large sums of money) and the voter lobbyist uses anger and emotion. I know the example of a voter is much smaller scale, but it’s the same principle and it serves to make a point: most of the time, the congressperson is going to nod, agree with the voter, spout some sound-bites vaguely related to the issue, maybe even say something about “looking into it” and then forget about the whole thing within days if not hours. One “lobbyist” taken care of. That lobbyist (voter) spent a lot on the lobbying effort (lot’s of emotion/anger and energy) and got zero return.

But suddenly it’s a bit of money being spent by a lobbyist (from K Street now, wearing a nice suit) and the congressperson is all ears and all understanding.

That, fair readers, is not ethical, moral or anything else.

It’s not really the lobbyists fault (although I don’t think former lobbyists should EVER be allowed into government until they’ve been through some sort of rehab and perhaps some spiritual confessions), it’s really not the corporations faults for HIRING lobbyists. It’s the fucking congresspeople who take the money AND THEN DO WHAT K STREET WANTS. They take our letters and phone-calls and e-mails and send us nice form letters that say “fuck you” in flowery language. They take our money, and unless we’ve given a fair amount, they don’t call us up and discuss the issues with us, most times we get an automated e-mail that says “thanks” (I’m not saying every $30 donation should be personally thanked, but my point is: we give money, lots of money, and we give feedback, lots of feedback, and it’s politely ignored).

I vote we disallow anyone in high-level government positions from using the words “ethical” or “moral” until they actually, you know, start acting that way.

Maybe this isn’t new, but it just seems to me that in the whole national conversation about “ethics reform” (WTF does that even mean? Ethics are ethics, you can’t “reform” how ethical someone is, only throw them out on their ass if they’re not. End of story.) and “lobbying reform” focuses only on the lobbyists and not at all on the zero will-powered folks who are being lobbied. Isn’t that why we elect these “leaders”? To, you know, lead? At this point it seems to me that we’ve got a whole lot of not leaders running our government, but followers, who see a shiny penny hang from a string and happily follow it without noticing that: A) they’re prancing in the opposite direction from the majority of average Americans, and: B) they’re following a corporate lobbyist who’s paid millions of dollars a year to hold that shiny penny on a string.

What’s in the water in Washington that seems to remove all true ethics and morality from our elected leaders?

Lobbying is only a problem as long as our elected leaders have no willpower. The day that they “just say no” is the day America’s will begin trusting our government again.

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