In all this financial debacle it has become ever more clear to me that the U.S. Government, the same one Lincoln referred to as a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is now more accurately described as one “of the corrupt, for the the corrupt and by the corrupt”. The notion of a government that is representative of its citizens is passe and has been replaced by the practice of government for the highest bidder. The role of lobbying (long established and practiced in the U.S.) has grown to ridiculous proportions in today's world.
The latest numbers on lobbying are available at opensecrets.org. Their research shows that in 2008, 15,150 registered lobbyists were working for various industries trying to influence policy. That's more than 28 lobbyists per member of Congress. And how much do the lobbyists spend on our esteemed members of Congress? Well, again thanks to the folks at opensecrets.org, we know that the total amount of money spent in 2008 was 3.24 billion. Now, by doing the simple math, we come up with just a little over 6 million spent, on average, per member of Congress. Wow. I hope I am not the only one who's more than a bit disappointed – and wishing I had run for Congress.
I went into the opensecrets rabbit hole searching for information on lobbying in general, but after digging for just a few minutes, I found some interesting information on one of my state's senators. Senator Susan Collins has accepted over $800,000 in donations from various industry and individual lobbyists. This is not citizen based money donated by supporters who wanted her re-elected. This money represents organizations who want favors. I did not have a warm and fuzzy feeling after leaving the site – it bordered more on disgust.
Some members of Collins' list of lobbyist donors include insurance companies (Liberty Mutual, NY Life, Met Life), banks (Goldman Sachs, Bank of America) and oil companies (ExxonMobil). It may be worth pointing out here that while Bank of America has some branches in our state, and ExxonMobil certainly has filling stations, Goldman Sachs has NO offices here. What the hell are they giving her money for? Oh, that's right, she sits on the committees of Governmental Affairs and (as of January of 2009) Appropriations. Translation – she has influence over regulation and spending. My other senator, Olympia Snowe, sits on much less powerful committees that do not influence spending and regulation like Collins' committees do. Her take in lobbying money? A much less impressive $2,000. Though to be fair, Snowe was not up for re-election in 2008, but Collins was.
This behavior of buying influence (again this is a long-standing political tradition) is repeated over and over for all members of Congress. The most powerful and those who can influence regulation get the most in donations. So who do they represent? Do they represent their constituents, or the industries who “donate” to their re-election funds? I bet I can guess. Especially since many former members of Congress go into lobbying (or working for various special interest groups) once their Congressional careers are over.
So what are we to do about this? As far as I am concerned it can be this simple – ban all lobbying. That means that senators and representatives will simply have to be beholden to their constituents – you know, the ones who actually voted for them. That would be a welcomed change from where I stand. I would like to think that my own delegation from Maine is more concerned with how I feel about such things as the bank bailouts than say, Goldman Sachs. The Goldman folks don't live here. Hell, they don't even employ people here. Why would my senator take their money if she is representing me and I would rather most of their senior leadership were in prison?
I am getting tired of feeling like unless I include a check with any letters sent to my senators, my words will go unread. The will of the people should be the rule of government. I, perhaps naively, would like to think that my concerns mean more to my congress people than the concerns of those who don't conduct business or live in my state. We need to change lobbying regulations now and remove one of the poisons of our deeply flawed political system before it can cause any more problems.