The Lobbying Problem and How We Can Fix It

We have a lobbying problem in Congress. Beginning in the early 2000s, the amount of money being spent to lobby Congress exceeded the amount of money taxpayers were spending to fund Congress:

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, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.

One of the major problems with this imbalance is the revolving door between career lobbying and career lawmaking. Many congressional aids and congressmen end up lobbying when they retire. In order to make and sweeten those connections, these members of Congress tend to acquiesce more easily to the demands of lobbyists.

Ultimately, this results in bribery. It’s legal, but it is basically bribery:

Lobbying, to most people, looks like bribery. And there’s certainly an element of bribery — the lobbyist who refuses to contribute to the reelection campaign isn’t going to get a meeting, much less an ally. But after the bribery comes the lobbyist’s real job: persuasion.

No member of congress wants to feel bought. What they want to feel is convinced. It’s the lobbyist’s job to give them that feeling —to make them feel like they’re casting the right vote, not just the vote they were paid to cast.

Lobbying thrives on ignorance and apathy. No member of congress can be expert on all the issues that cross their desk. But members of Congress can be expert, or at least think they’re expert, on some issues. Those are the issues where lobbying is hardest — and least effective. Lobbyists can’t make Republicans vote for Obamacare or Democrats vote for Paul Ryan’s budget. Their sorcery rarely works on issues ruled by ideology.

So what’s the solution? Many would say the solution is to increase the funding for Congress. Basically make it more lucrative for Congress to do their jobs than it is for them to sell out to lobbyists. That sounds like a stupid idea.

So how do we fix our lobbying problem? By electing people who vote on conviction, get informed about the laws they vote on, and have firm ideological motivations for their decisions. As the article says, “[Lobbyists] sorcery rarely works on issues ruled by ideology.” Most of the people in Congress don’t vote according to any fixed ideology. That’s why they are so easily swayed by lobbying. We need more political office holders whose offices are rarely frequented by lobbyists. Can you think of any candidates or politicians that match that description?