Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Whoremongering on K Street

It's good, good, good to be a K Street lobbyist. In The Washington Post, Jeffrey Birnbaum notes that the number of registered Beltway lobbyists has more than doubled since 2000 -- to nearly 35,000 -- while the amount they charge has skyrocketed by 100 percent.

"Political historians don't see these as positive developments for democracy," writes Birnbaum.

" 'We've got a problem here,' said Allan Cigler, a political scientist at the University of Kansas. 'The growth of lobbying makes even worse than it is already the balance between those with resources and those without resources.' "

What strikes us as interesting is how Republican-controlled executive and legislative branches have actually fueled the K Street train. At first blush, after all, you might think that a lobbying bonanza would run contrary to a federal government presumably committed to the ideology of deregulation, smaller government and laissez faire economics. But no. Could it be that the GOP doesn't exactly put all businesses and industries on equal foooting?

The Post continues:

"In the 1990s, lobbying was largely reactive. Corporations had to fend off proposals that would have restricted them or cost them money. But with pro-business officials running the executive and legislative branches, companies are also hiring well-placed lobbyists to go on the offensive and find ways to profit from the many tax breaks, loosened regulations and other government goodies that increasingly are available.


"The Republicans in charge aren't just pro-business, they are also pro-government. Federal outlays increased nearly 30 percent from 2000 to 2004, to $2.29 trillion. And despite the budget deficit, federal spending is set to increase again this year, especially in programs that are prime lobbying targets such as defense, homeland security and medical coverage."

Same song, different verse. Either the Dems are selling influence or the Republicans are. What changes are the folks doing the buying. We're not so naive as to envision a day in which money and influence won't weigh so heavily in policymaking. Granted, that's just the way it shakes out, and will always shake out; such realities inevitably mean tough-going for Democrats, who traditionally (accent on the "traditionally") speak for those without money or influence.

But the growth of lobbying is generating its own industry, the industry of influence, and that is just too intangible a commodity for those in the business to resist a scam here and there. For lobbying at its most vile, look no further than the escapades of lobbyist extraordinaire Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee today painted an operation in which the pair bilked American Indian tribes out of millions of dollars through bogus invoices and tax-exempt organizations.

AP has the lowdown on documents presented to the committee, chaired by U.S. Sen. John McCain.

"The documents show continuing efforts by Scanlon and Abramoff to convince tribal officials that their lobbying efforts were far more extensive and expensive than they actually were.

" 'I think you should call her and tell her that we have turned the corner but you are pouring it on to make sure we win. Tell her as of now you are finally willing to say that we will win this, but laughingly say "I don't know how I am going to get back all the money I had to dump into this. I hope the Golden Moon (casino) turns out to be real golden!" ' Abramoff suggested to Scanlon in an e-mail. 'That will set her up for a discussion about payments.'

"One e-mail obtained by the Senate committee shows that Abramoff and Scanlon charged the Mississippi Choctaws $7.7 million for projects in 2001. Of that, Scanlon spent $1.2 million on lobbying work, and he and Abramoff split the remaining $6.5 million."

Read the AP story here. It's an eye-opener.


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