Lobbying Money Twirls the Political World

As the Cabaret song observes, “money makes the world go ‘round,” and that’s especially true of American politics with the Democratic platform objecting to lobbying only sotto voce so as not to offend, says Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

In all of the 35 single-spaced pages of the Democratic Party’s platform draft, there is just one mention of lobbying. One. Oh, it says some fine uplifting things about voters lacking a proper voice in government, about money and politics and the need to overturn Citizens United and Buckley v. Valeo, two of the Supreme Court decisions that unleashed a deluge of dollars into our electoral system.

“Democrats believe we must fight to preserve the essence of the longest standing democracy in the world: a government that represents the American people, not just a handful of powerful and wealthy special interests,” the draft reads. “We will fight for real campaign-finance reform now. Big money is drowning out the voices of everyday Americans, and we must have the necessary tools to fight back and safeguard our electoral and political integrity.”

Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey performing "Money Makes the World Go Around" in the movie, "Cabaret."

Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey performing “Money Makes the World Go Around” in the movie, “Cabaret.”

But the word “lobbying” is only in there once. And that’s in reference to regulating our financial system. “We will crack down on the revolving door between the private sector — particularly Wall Street — and the federal government,” it says in the draft. “… And we will bar financial-service regulators from lobbying their former colleagues for at least two years.”

All fine and dandy, and sure, language may change as the committee meets in Orlando this weekend to approve a final draft that will be sent to the convention later this month. But so far, there’s zero about the billions of dollars spent to lobby Congress, the White House and the other federal regulatory agencies — $3.22 billion last year alone.

Nothing about how lobbyists bundle masses of cash for candidates and bankroll lavish lunches and soirees at the party conventions. Nothing about the thousands employed along K Street to woo politicians and government officials on behalf of their fat-cat clients. Nothing about the trickle down of the lobby industry from DC into our states, counties and municipalities.

Just the other day, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that since 2002, lobbyists in Minnesota alone have spent nearly $800 million buying influence: “The amount spent per year has doubled, and the number of new lobbying clients seeking to make themselves heard has tripled.”

Funny kind of democracy where you have to shell out big bucks to get any attention paid, emphasis on the “paid.” It reminds me of my late friend, humorist Henry Morgan, who used to say that the word democracy was derived from the Greek — demos, meaning “people,” and cracy, meaning “crazy.”

But the Democrats’ failure to sound the alarm on lobbying isn’t surprising, really. No one in either of the two party establishments wants to upset the cart that delivers all them golden apples.

Besides, as journalist Thomas Frank writes, Washington and the lobbyists that the city nurtures have bonded as “a community – a community of corruption, perhaps, but a community nevertheless: happy, prosperous and joyfully oblivious to the plight of the country once known as the land of the middle class.”

Lobbying remains one of the nation’s “persistently prosperous industries,” Thomas Frank notes, with a “curiously bipartisan nature… After all, for this part of Washington, the only real ideology around is based on money – how much and how quickly you get paid.”

Look on their works, ye Mighty, and despair! Or better yet, take a look at a recent article in Politico, the publication which is to Washington gossip and dealmaking what Variety is to Hollywood gossip and dealmaking.

Oil billionaires David and Charles Koch.

Oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, two major forces in the business of political spending.

It’s the sad story of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, an attempt — after the arrest and conviction of superlobbyist Jack Abramoff — to address the revolving door between government and business, that sends former members of Congress and their staffs spinning into the arms of cushy lobbying jobs, too often fostering graft, greed and the gross abuse of money and power.

Instead, and in classic fashion, by the time the bill was signed into law, it had been subverted, twisted into a tangle of compromise and doubletalk that did nothing to solve the problem and may well have made it worse.

Isaac Arnsdorf of Politico writes, “Not only did the lobbying reform bill fail to slow the revolving door, it created an entire class of professional influencers who operate in the shadows, out of the public eye and unaccountable.”

“Of the 352 people who left Congress alive since the law took effect in January 2008, POLITICO found that almost half (47 percent) have joined the influence industry: 84 as registered lobbyists and 80 others as policy advisers, strategic consultants, trade association chiefs, corporate government relations executives, affiliates of agenda-driven research institutes and leaders of political action committees or pressure groups.

Taken as a whole, more former lawmakers are influencing policy and public opinion now than before the reform was enacted: in a six-year period before the law, watchdog group Public Citizen found 43 percent of former lawmakers became lobbyists.”

Further: “There is less transparency because some former lawmakers don’t need to register because lobbying is just one slice of how special interests shape laws in Washington today… [And] it’s hard to tell the difference between the job descriptions of former members who are registered to lobby and those who aren’t. That’s because the reform law provided weak rules and even weaker enforcement. It added criminal penalties but made them so hard to prosecute they’ve never been tried.”

And it gets worse: “The revolving door is about to enter peak season. Already 42 members of Congress have resigned, lost or announced plans to leave by January, and some are already talking with prospective future employers — all perfectly permissible and confidential, thanks to weaknesses engineered into the post-Abramoff reform law. These members know they can command a premium — $100,000 more than other lobbyists, according to a new study — from an industry that values the access they can provide to the halls of power.”

And you thought Congress never got anything accomplished! And then wondered why plutocrats can still skip through yawning tax loopholes and the military still gets billions for weapons systems it doesn’t need and the health insurance industry gets away with murder and pharmaceutical prices are ruinous, to name but a few of the heinous ways the influence of deep pockets shafts the rest of us.

The crime, of course, is that none of this is a crime but business as usual. And so the draft platform of the Democratic National Committee mentions lobbying but once and the chicanery, gouging and legalized bribery continue unabated — just another perfect day in Washington and these United States. Check, please.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This article previously appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/democrats-ignore-lobbyist-room/.]


8 comments for “Lobbying Money Twirls the Political World

  1. Joe Tedesky
    July 9, 2016 at 23:22

    Someone on this site just the other day brought it to my attention that he thought (& pretty convincingly) that Hillary never gave any speeches at Goldman Sachs, or did she possibly deliver any of her expensive words on anyone, anywhere, at anytime. This would suggest that the money paid for the speeches was nothing more than a bribe, or as we say on the street this was a ‘kickback’. After I thought about it for a minute or under a half hour, I come to the conclusion, that even if there had been a speech or two, that 250k (starting price) for a 40 minute speech, is …well just sinfully outrageous. Outside of God on the day before judgement day, who would be worth you wanting to listen to for 40 minutes where you would be required to pay 250k & up? What should concern us citizens the most, is just what does one get when paying that kind of money for a ‘speech’ (if there even is a speech)?

      July 10, 2016 at 01:48

      From the start, I have always suspected HillBillious’ speeches at Goldman Sachs were nothing but The Power of Positive Thinking, devoid-of-content, motivational fluff the stockbroker (sales people) receive from time to time. Whatever the case, most of her speaking fees were well in excess of their FMV, and therefore, sailing close to the bribery wind.

      • Joe Tedesky
        July 10, 2016 at 02:36

        I’m not being original here, but the treasure trove is to be found in the Clinton Foundation & all of it’s spin off names. This I am told is where bargains can be made. I’m reading that book ‘Clinton Cash’, if the book is correct, Hillary & Bill are selling off influence through these foundation doors like the CF & signing off on America’s treasures one by one. Hillary falling over AIPAC wasn’t encouraging either. Scary to think America’s military’s foreign policy will be dictated from Tel Aviv.

        • July 10, 2016 at 06:54


          Who runs the country, and the media? Ask Dr. Alan Sabrosky, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts and Dr. Robert Parry
          Israel owns the Congress, and while any President can start any fight anywhere that the President chooses to start, Congressional supremacy inheres in the US Constitutional order, although there have certainly been periods when a very strong President — especially one who knew how to use the media of the day — could circumvent the Congress.

          But pro-Israel Jews also owns the mainstream media now, so that element of bypassing the Congress on the issue of Israel isn’t there. A President who chose to fight Israel would find himself in the same position as Obama, basically left with the choice of an undignified public grovel, or seeing his Administration’s overall policy stonewalled on Capitol Hill.

          I suspect, The Donald has a backbone and the courage to stand up to Netanyahu and the Israel Lobby once in the drivers seat. No outsider has come as close to winning as he has, he is giving them the jitters… which is why the War Party and its talking heads in the Media are throwing everything at him. He is facing a very undemocratic treatment head on! Go Donald!

          • Jonny James
            July 10, 2016 at 12:29

            What? Trump has prostrated himself in front of AIPAC and groveled. He boasted that his grandkids will be Jews as his daughter converted to Judaism when she got married. Trump is a puppet just like the rest.

            His racist ranting have demonized all Muslims which the Zionists and Warmongers love. How is that standing up to Israel? Israel loves him.

            He is mentally unhinged. When will naive people stop believing the cheap rhetoric of politicians?

            Besides, one megalomaniac Puppet Emperor is powerless to change the institutionalized corruption. Dream on

          • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
            July 13, 2016 at 17:45

            I have already criticized your anti-Semitic propaganda, and the fact that Trump is a supporter of Israel. Jonny James below also mentions the latter. Debbie Menon, I despise you.

  2. Dennis Merwood
    July 9, 2016 at 18:36

    Our Senator from Washington State, the little old lady in tennis shoes, receives campaign contributions from BOEING. Not bribes.

  3. Jonny James
    July 9, 2016 at 15:31

    There is no corruption in the USA, only in those “other” countries.

    In the USA, corruption is institutionalized and perfectly legal. When it is clearly unlawful, the crimes are simply ignored -they don’t exist.

    The Land of the Free is the Home of the Largest Prison Population ever. Orwell roll over…

Comments are closed.