David Boaz of Cato at Liberty reported catching a Naderite speaking the truth:
"[T]he amount spent on lobbying . . . is related entirely to how much the federal government intervenes in the private economy," Craig Holman of the Nader-founded Public Citizen told Marketplace Radio.
It's a fairly obvious point, yet it flies in the face of two consistent leftist policy goals (or at least stated leftist policy goals): more federal involvement in the economy and less influence on the federal government by lobbyists. Not surprisingly, health-care interests are doing the most active lobbying right now, just as Congress and President Obama are pushing a major overhaul of the health-care system. As Boaz notes, lobbying firms are already salivating at the coming windfall over the climate change debate.
All this money the private sector is spending to influence how the laws are written is money not spent on developing new business plans, research and development, or otherwise contributing to the broader economy (though it does contribute to D.C.'s). It's part of the cost of major new government initiatives that isn't generally considered.
I think lobbyists get a bad rap. Sure, most of them are spineless and unprincipled. That doesn't make them any different than most people in Washington. But I can't begrudge anyone who wants to spend $1 million to prevent the government from enacting laws or regulations that are going to cost his business $10 million. Everyone wants to denigrate lobbyists. But they're really only conduits between the governing and the governed. If there's something sleazy about what they do, it's because politicians and policymakers apparently respond to sleaziness. Lobbyists exist because the government has put power on the table to be divvied up in the first place. The way to reduce the influence of lobbyists in government is to reduce the influence of government everywhere else. Nothing else is going to work.
Of course, that's never going to happen. So instead, the solution from both parties, though it's generally more supported by Democrats, is to restrict the right of individuals, groups, or businesses to have a say in how the government operates, be it through campaign finance restrictions or stricter lobbying rules. Put another way, they want to pass unconstitutional laws limiting political speech so they can better pass unconstitutional expansions of government power that aren't tainted by the appearance of impropriety.
Radley Balko is a senior editor of Reason magazine where this column originally appeared. The JFP Daily features his column every Tuesday.
Agreed. I saw an excellent editorial cartoon a few years back which depicted a politician saying, "I feel strongly about this," with about 10 corporate logos prodding him from behind.