$3.47 billion spent. Did you get a pony?

The Center for Responsive Politics has taken a look at lobbying expenses for 2009 and found that we have a new record. $3.47 billion was spent by 13,741 registered lobbyists to lobby the Congress in 2009. In 2008 $3.27 billion was spent. And this is only the spending for those folks who have to register under the extremely weak Federal lobbying disclosure laws. Billions more have been spent by PR firms, think tanks, front groups, shadow groups and other entities and individuals operating with carefully designed work-plans crafted to escape oversight and disclosure.

The recent Legislation enacted by the Bush/Roberts Court will flood the zone with even more money. This is another indication of just how deep in the shit our Democracy finds itself in these days.

It has been almost six years since the Abramoff scandal broke on the front page of the WaPost. The story was followed for a while, but now it is just old news. Except that it isn’t. The system of corruption that Jack Abramoff helped to build is as strong today as it ever was. All the scams that Jack used to run are still being run today. The only difference is that Washington is now filled with “Baby Jacks” running these cons. And this corruption is a bipartisan project–perhaps the only bipartisan project that functions inside the beltway.

The Abramoff scandal is a Rosetta stone of how the system of lobbying, money laundering and influence works in Washington. This scandal needs to be examined and expose if we hope to reclaim our democracy from those who seek to bleed it dry.

There are Millions and millions of pages of Abramoff related documents, emails, testimony and other evidence that have been gathered by the DOJ. Another 750,000 pages of documents were gathered by John McCain and then sent to the National Archives to be swept under the rug of history. In these documents is a clear road map of how “legal” lobbying works in Washington. As some wise folks have observed, the worst part of the Abramoff scandal are all the things he did that are legal .

It is time to demand some action by Congress when it comes to out-of-control bribery (also known as lobbying). The measures put in place in the wake of the Abramoff scandal were only designed to deal with the low hanging fruit–the most obvious examples of pay for play. Everything else was left in place.

I suspect most folks would be surprised to learn that neither the House nor the Senate ever conducted any investigation into the connections that many elected officials and Hill staffers had with the scandal. Yes, there were a handful of very narrow Congressional investigation, but each of these intentionally avoided following up any trail of corruption that led to a staffer or a member of the House or Senate. Also surprising is the fact that neither the House nor the Senate ever conducted any investigation into the systemic and root problems with lobbying exposed by the scandal.

It is time to demand that Congress does its job.

A Member of Congress (especially on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee) or a Senator could launch an investigation into the Abramoff scandal and use this mountain of documents to expose the system of lobbying. Such a report could lead to stronger disclosure laws and an expansion of the definition of a “lobbyist”. It would also help if Congress gave prosecutors new laws and tools to help convict corrupt lobbyists, staffers and elected and appointed officials. As things stand right now most crimes of lobbying are “legal”.

And the Bush/Roberts Court is working on new Legislation from the bench to weaken and obstruct the current laws on the books that have been used in most prosecutions of public corruption over the last thirty years. Think of it as companion Legislation for the Unlimited Corporate Money Bill the Court enacted a few weeks ago.

Legalized bribery–AKA lobbying–is a threat to our Nation. Congress will not act unless they are forced to act. It is time to make some noise about this. It is time for Congressional Hearings and reform legislation. It is time for Congress to start working on Legislation to counteract the new Legislation being created and ordered by the Bush/Roberts Courts.

If you divide the money spent by lobbyists last year it comes to about $11 for every Citizen of America. Most of us are not seeing any benefit for that. Ponies are not in the mail.

If one wants to focus on the root of dysfunction in Washington, you have to look at lobbying. The Executive Branch under President Obama has put in place the toughest rules and the most transparent disclosure of lobbying contacts in the history of America. While this is great news, it will matter very little if Congress does not act to clean-up its own rules and pass real lobbying reform laws.

And as the most activist Court in American history continues to legislate from the bench, Congress needs to act to protect its right to make the laws of the land from the rogue Bush/Roberts Court.

We live in interesting times.

Cheers

dengre

22 replies
  1. 1
  2. 2
    Skepticat says:

    No, but I have lots of evidence that the pony was here–big mounds of it.

  3. 3
    Zifnab says:

    A Member of Congress (especially on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee) or a Senator could launch an investigation into the Abramoff scandal and use this mountain of documents to expose the system of lobbying. Such a report could lead to stronger disclosure laws and an expansion of the definition of a “lobbyist”. It would also help if Congress gave prosecutors new laws and tools to help convict corrupt lobbyists, staffers and elected and appointed officials. As things stand right now most crimes of lobbying are “legal”.

    That’s never going to happen (in any effective capacity) and you should know it.

    Ultimately, you can’t expect Congress to police itself. You can’t really expect ANYBODY to police themselves. The best you can manage under the current system is more and better transparency. Get the Abramoff documents exposed under FOIA, set up a third-party watchdog to do the serious investigative work, follow the money, and start lining up the “Baby Jacks” currently operating off of K-Street.

    Once you have a pattern and you can start singling out individuals, you can bust Senators and Congressmen on their connections and push them off their opposition to progressive issues (or push them out of office in a primary / general election).

    But asking Congress to police itself is Sisyphean and futile. If you want to link us to a site that has the information and tools on how to parse it, I’ll happily sit down and help where I can.

    If you want to run an ActBlue collection to help fund a watch dog group – I’m personally a big fan of “Texans Public Justice” – I’m all for that.

    But if you want me to charge the windmill that is Congressional oversight of Congress, you’ve lost me.

  4. 4
    Zandar says:

    I’ll be in charge.

    Give me a Super Soaker full of warthog urine and I’ll solve your damn lobbyist problem.

  5. 5
    Michael says:

    I didn’t get a pony, and didn’t get shit. This is always the point where I lament that Dexter Morgan is only a fictional character, and that I’m not going to get any joy out of thoughts of Dexter treating lobbyists and their paymasters to a show involving the creative use of shrink wrap and knives.

  6. 6
    MaximusNYC says:

    OT: The signatures are pouring in on the Draft Harold Ford petition!

    http://www.draftford.org/signatures/

    Recent signatories include Deuce Bagg, Ukant B. Zerius, and Faux Yorker.

    Join this genuine grassroots movement!

  7. 7
    Church Lady says:

    Do you seriously think it will EVER change? If you do, I’ve got a pony for you.

    The bribery cuts across both parties and knows no bounds. The only way I can think of for it to ever stop is for term limits (12 years maximum in each legislative branch) and complete public financing of elections. That is the only way to remove the influence of money in Washington.

  8. 8

    Maybe Lessig has the beginning of some ideas we could all get behind. I linked to this piece the other day, but it’s worth a repeat.

    The list is endless; the practice open and notorious. Since the time of Rome, historians have taught that while corruption is a part of every society, the only truly dangerous corruption comes when the society has lost any sense of shame. Washington has lost its sense of shame.

    The nut of the piece is that Congress is broken. Its basically a place where the monied interests go to make sure the status quo remains intact.

    And not surprisingly, as powerful interests from across the nation increasingly invest in purchasing public policy rather than inventing a better mousetrap, wealth, and a certain class of people, shift to Washington. According to the 2000 Census, fourteen of the hundred richest counties were in the Washington area. In 2007, nine of the richest twenty were in the area. Again, Kaiser: “In earlier generations enterprising young men came to Washington looking for power and political adventure, often with ambitions to save or reform the country or the world. In the last fourth of the twentieth century such aspirations were supplanted by another familiar American yearning: to get rich.”

    Follow the money.

  9. 9
    SpotWeld says:

    The GOP has been pretty uniformly negative on stimulus / economic recovery.

    If you turn to a group of people a tell them they’re sick and that they are getting sicker (even when they’re getting medicine) they probably won’t feel better and will probably become even more reluctant to take medicine.

    In this sense, are the Republicans partially at fault for the slow economic recovery.

    Or am I just engaging in Beck-level paranoia and blame flinging?

  10. 10
    Ruckus says:

    @Skepticat:
    It’s amazing how much crap $11 buys, isn’t it. We could end agriculture subsidies if each one of us could just get our pile to the farmers. I’m sure that my $11 pile alone would cover several acres.

  11. 11
    Tonal Crow says:

    @Church Lady:

    The bribery cuts across both parties and knows no bounds. The only way I can think of for it to ever stop is for term limits….

    That doesn’t work. Term limits transfer power from known elected officials to largely-anonymous unelected staff that can (and does) remain in place for decades. You think the lobbyists won’t/don’t bribe staff?

  12. 12
    scudbucket says:

    For some reason, this post reminded me of George Carlin’s maybe it’s not the politicians who suck, maybe its the public routine.

  13. 13
    Tonal Crow says:

    @Church Lady: [Continued from previous message because the site said I don’t have permission to edit it. Yeah, John, the site’s working fine.]

    …and complete public financing of elections.

    I think better public financing will help, but I don’t think it’s a panacea. And we can’t constitutionally ban private contributions or independent expenditures, so we can’t ever have exclusive public financing, if that’s what you meant by “complete”, unless we amend the 1st Amendment. On that point, the “cure” — which would attract everything from the Flag Burning Amendment to the Enemy Combatant Indefinite Detention Amendment — would be infinitely worse than the disease.

  14. 14
    MikeJ says:

    I don’t know if public floggings would solve the problem but at least it would be entertaining.

  15. 15
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Church Lady:

    The only way I can think of for it to ever stop is for term limits (12 years maximum in each legislative branch)

    I can tell you from harsh experience here in California that term limits have actually made things much much worse than they were. We now have a bunch of inexperienced legislators who basically allow lobbyists to write all of the legislation because they don’t know any better. And if some legislator does try to stand up to the lobbyists, they just wait him/her out. Now we have a short-term legislature and long-term lobbyists.

    Not to mention that the legislators all expect to get jobs with those lobbying firms as soon as their terms are over, so they want to stay on good terms with them. What, you thought people would be politicians for 12 years and then start working at McDonald’s? Of course they’re going to stay in politics, and if they’re not going to be legislators, they’re going to become lobbyists.

  16. 16
    Tonal Crow says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Of course they’re going to stay in politics, and if they’re not going to be legislators, they’re going to become lobbyists.

    Or staffers or consultants acting all buddy-buddy with lobbyists.

  17. 17
    jm says:

    If you divide the money spent by lobbyists last year it comes to about $11 for every Citizen of America.

    Boy, is this ever the wrong way to look at it.

    If you the divide $3.47billion by the 535 members of congress it comes to just under $6.5million per legislator. This money is undoubtedly distributed disproportionately to those members with the most power. What possible incentive do they have to change anything? Even if a handful of ethical members make a stink (backed by sternly worded letters from constituents), the best possible outcome is weak-tea legislation that will reduce the average take by a few hundred thousand dollars at most.

    A better tactic might be to foster a new journalistic convention that discloses individual financial relationships between politicians and those who lobby them in every single report on proposed legislation or executive action. (opensectrets.org makes this easy in the context of campaign contributions, other types of legalized graft may be more difficult to ferret out.) Reporters needn’t make judgments, just highlight the flow of money. Let the politicians defend their policy positions in the full sunlight of who their financial benefactors are and what those benefactors may be getting in return. Let the readers/viewers make up their own minds.

    A better tactic, still, would be to take to the streets in sufficient numbers on a sustained basis and demand better from our rulers. The powerful rarely cede power without a fight. Alas, given our collective docility, not to mention the swift and brutal reaction that would ensue, this option is not likely to occur.

  18. 18
    Zifnab says:

    @jm:

    A better tactic might be to foster a new journalistic convention that discloses individual financial relationships between politicians and those who lobby them in every single report on proposed legislation or executive action.

    THIS.

    Self-policing Congressmen are a lost cause. But journalism can still be saved.

  19. 19
    DougL (frmrly: Conservatively Liberal) says:

    While knowing total expenditures in lobbying is good I would like to see some breakdown as to where all of that money is going, to see exactly whose pockets are filling as a result of the largess being spread around. I think data like that would be much more useful than just the total spent.

    They aren’t just tossing that money out there, it has to be making it to where they want it to be most effective and seeing that would be much more informative IMO.

    Great writeup though Dennis. It’s clear that we are fighting a David versus Goliath-type of battle but we (the Davids) are being made to fight without a sling or rocks, just our bare hands. It would be nice to see how Goliath is paying and feeding their ‘army’.

  20. 20
    Mary says:

    Good piece. I’d love to see a something on how lobbying dollars corrupt journalists too.

  21. 21

    […] thanks fo AmericaBlog for putting us on the quiet bus; with the money lobbyists have spent they could have bought us all a pony, or actually done something useful; PayGo is back but will it work; the Euro may well be doomed; […]

  22. 22
    jonerik says:

    Maybe we’re all looking at this the wrong way. How about instead of trying to work for democratic change or contributing $$ to politicians who promise change, we sell futures on antidemocratic pieces of legislation. That way, when democracy fails, we can at least be rich.

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