Lay Off the Lobbyists

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In this Boston Globe article Susan Milligan and a handful of campaign finance watchdogs dissect the "lobbyists suck" line that has become shorthand for a general sense of unease over whose interests are getting attention in Washington. Lobbyists per se aren't the problem. Money, and the varied routes that carry it from the pockets of a few to campaigns around the country, is the problem. The answer is to push for full public financing of campaigns.

When you or I call our elected representative and urge him or her to something, we're lobbying. Lobbying and lobbyists aren't inherently evil, but the lazy tendency to heap the ills of our access-buying system on the backs of a single group has obscured the actual corruption within the system.


But in Washington, where attempts to restrict and restrain lobbying are a constant part of political life, few believe that any of the prescriptions offered by the candidates are likely to bring about the dramatic changes being promised.

Interviews with leading government watchdogs and veteran lawmakers say the proposed solutions - such as banning federal candidates from accepting lobbyists' contributions, and preventing lobbyists from serving in White House roles - would do little to stop the influence lobbyists have in crafting policy in Washington.

Members of Congress cannot legally be prevented from meeting with lobbyists or any other advocates for a cause, government watchdog groups and the professional advocates say. They noted that corporate interests also have other avenues to promote their views, ranging from face-to-face meetings with lawmakers to television commercials making their case to the public.

Even if lobbyists were barred from making campaign donations, political action committees representing corporate or other special interests could still make donations lawfully. "If you can be bought by a lobbyist, you can be bought by a nonlobbyist," said Representative Michael Capuano, Democrat of Somerville.

It's all about the money -- and using that money to buy special access the average voter can't get. Until we can create a way for an aspiring member of Congress to seek office without courting big money we'll never really address the problems generated by lobbyists playing the campaign money game in exchange for legislative favors.

It's easy for slogans to displace substance on the campaign trail, particularly when it comes to a bad-guy buzzword like "lobbyist." The real problem is the money -- whether corporate lobbyists or their clients looking for favorable policy are giving it -- and the real solution is to pass the Fair Elections Now Act in the Senate and its companion legislation in the House to create a public financing option for Congressional races, then move on to a similar piece of legislation to update the presidential public financing system.