Monday, March 29, 2004

The Power of Industry Lobbyists
Today's Washington Post has a story that sheds some interesting light on how corporate interests really are in the catbird's seat right now.

The story is chock full of beltway gossip about which industry power lobbyist is going to retire or be replaced in the coming year. One headhunter says, "You're talking about huge changeover in the real powers that be."

It's somewhat frightening that the "powers that be" are no longer elected officials, accountable to the people, but industry power barons. Indeed, corporate America spends way more on lobbying our elected officials than it does on influencing who gets elected. This is one sure sign that they in fact are pretty satisfied with our current crop of politicians. Clearly, the money they are spending on elections is working well enough to elect people who they are comfortable doing business with and lobbying.

The story says that "the lobbyists' clout has grown so much that D.C. decision-makers regularly rely on their information and insight to write new laws and regulations." Douglas Pinkham, head of a non-partisan group that studies lobbying says, "interest groups of all types have greater influence than they did 20 years ago."

Ultra-conservative Grover Norquist has figured out that the power is now with the lobbyists and has organized a project aimed at getting his buddies hired at various lobby firms.

Labor, on the other hand, seems to be focusing a lot more on elections rather than lobbying. Under current labor chief John Sweeney, labor has boosted their own members' turnout in elections. Union households now cast 1 out of 4 votes in elections, up from 1 in 7 in 1994. Keep in mind that this is while union membership is falling. Regardless of how you feel about organized labor, you have to admit that spending energy getting your members to register and vote is a better thing for democracy than industry hiring lobbyists to spoon-feed legislators bills they'd like to see passed.

So, labor has something going for it; and Hollywood, the trial lawyers, the automobile manufactures, drug companies, and chemical companies have their lobbyists looking out for them. But, what about the rest of us? Until we have a campaign finance system that elects people who will do our bidding, lobbyists in DC will continue to call the shots.

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