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“I’m Not a Lobbyist, I’m a Campaign Donor Who Lobbies”

Via Meadia is shocked, shocked! at the latest disclosures from Washington DC that some of the President’s largest campaign donors are lobbyists in all but name.  Apparently, some of the people writing checks for thousands of dollars and asking their friends to do the same are hoping to influence government policy! Horrors.  The NYT has the story:

At least 15 of Mr. Obama’s “bundlers” — supporters who contribute their own money to his campaign and solicit it from others — are involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies. They have raised more than $5 million so far for the campaign.

Because the bundlers are not registered as lobbyists with the Senate, the Obama campaign has managed to avoid running afoul of its self-imposed ban on taking money from lobbyists.

But registered or not, the bundlers are in many ways indistinguishable from people who fit the technical definition of a lobbyist. They glide easily through the corridors of power in Washington, with a number of them hosting Mr. Obama at fund-raisers while also visiting the White House on policy matters and official business.

Via Meadia can’t bring itself to hate lobbyists as much as our more moralistic colleagues and friends often do.  A large and complex democratic society like ours necessarily has many different economic and political interest groups who want representation.  Even oil companies have shareholders, employees and subcontractors who benefit from a healthy oil industry, and if freedom means anything it means that those affected by government decisions have the right to express their views to lawmakers and advance their interests within the law.

The Founding Fathers all hated the idea of political parties and ‘factions’ but soon came around to realize that parties are necessary to republican self government.  Lobbies are to our times what political parties were to the Founders: they are necessary but despised.

Because lobbies play a necessary and vital role in our political system, efforts to curtail them usually end in failure. We can (and should) do more to track and publicize the funding that politicians get, and the press should do a much better job of following the ways in which lobbyists shape legislation, but there is no practical way to keep people and interests who are affected by policies and laws from trying to influence policy makers and shape laws.

That being said, lobbyists probably don’t have as much influence as the sensationalist media leads the public to believe.  On the big issues, politicians generally look for people who support the stands they believe in, rather than selling their souls to anybody with cash.  Just because Republicans take money from oil companies doesn’t mean that they are insincere in their dislike of the EPA.  Just because Democrats cash checks from teachers’ unions doesn’t mean that they don’t really believe the government should be spending more on Head Start.

What makes the Obama administration and its band of well heeled supporters look foolish isn’t the dance between politicos and those who pay their bills in the hope of favorable treatment.  It is the hypocrisy: claiming to rise above an inescapable system.

The Founders did the same thing; Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton built political parties while denying that anything so unpatriotic and vulgar ever crossed their minds.  As late as the time of William McKinley, presidential candidates pretended not to be interested in running for office.  Now President Obama takes his proud place in the procession of American hypocrites and pretends not to take money from lobbies.

Shock all round.  Politicians pandering to voter prejudice?  What next, misleading talking points in presidential debates?

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  • Toni

    Oh heck. You should have been shocked, shocked! in 2009 when, contrary to promises, Obama hired lobbyists for key administration posts. Along with Tim Geithner and other tax cheats.

    How about primo crony capitalist Bill Daley, who became White House Chief of Staff in January? See “The American Nomenklatura” in Forbes, Jan. 26:

    “Does anyone seriously believe that Bill Daley, son of the founder of Chicago’s great political machine, is something other than a crony capitalist? That he became president of a Baby Bell phone company, created by government fiat, protected by state public utility regulators because of his knowledge of telecommunications technology and not because of his association with power? Does anyone believe that when JPMorgan purchased a regional Chicago bank, which required both federal and especially state regulatory approval, that Daley’s political credentials were irrelevant?

    “The Daleys of the world, the Rubins of the world, the Rahm Emmanuels of the world who rotate out of commerce secretary, treasury secretary, White House chief of staff positions and into positions at the top of investment banks, government-regulated utility monopolies and various GSEs are our nomenklatura. They are the members of our permanent ruling class.”

    Stinks, huh?

  • Toni

    More Obama-donor-lobbyist muck:

    “Wealthy revolving-door banker Peter Orszag epitomizes everything Obama ran against. Orszag was Obama’s budget director until the 2010 elections at which point he cashed out to bailed-out megabank Citigroup. A Citi executive touted Orszag’s “key … government experience” and “his expertise in economic policy.” In other words, Orzag has monetized his public service and sold it to Citi, which, like all big banks, counts on favorable government policy for its profits.

    “Apparently feeling fairly plush after nine months at a Wall Street salary, Orszag cut a $35,800 check last month to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that divides its funds between the official Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee. To sum up: Orszag gained inside knowledge and connections on the taxpayer dime, put them to work for a big bank, then used his salary from this bailed-out bank to give the maximum contribution to the man who hired him in the White House.”

    But Orszag doesn’t count, so to speak. “So how do they skate around Obama’s “ban”? They are not currently registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, and so they don’t meet the Obama campaign’s definition of “lobbyist.”…

    “Under federal law, anyone who spends at least 20 percent of his or her time on “lobbying activities” is supposed to register. There is almost no enforcement of this registration requirement, as proving a violation would require knowing how an unregistered individual spends all his time. The biggest effect of Obama’s restrictions on lobbyists, regarding giving and serving on boards, has been mass deregistration of lobbyists.

    “But even the prohibition on registered lobbyists’ gifts doesn’t mean a Democrat has to deregister in order to fund Obama: the lobbyist could just let his or her spouse sign the check… But his wife, who lists her occupation as “homemaker,” gave $3,000 to the Obama Victory Fund last month.

    “This is the sort of change Obama has given us: the status quo, just with more smoke and mirrors.”

  • Lorenzo from Oz

    The more government regulates, intervenes and spends, the more lobbying there will be. If you want less lobbying, have less government. All else is dross.

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