Is Lobbying Closer To Bribery... Or Extortion?

from the depends-on-how-you-look-at-it dept

We've certainly talked quite a bit about the institutional-level corruption of the way Congress and lobbying works, but a recent This American Life episode, done in partnership with the Planet Money team takes a much deeper dive into how lobbying works. You absolutely should listen to it. It's really fascinating, even for folks who follow a lot of this stuff. There is also a full transcript, but hearing the whole thing is quite fascinating. Among the elements that are most interesting are the details of just how much time and effort goes into politicians raising money, and how the various fundraisers work.

But one thing that struck me in listening to it, was a comment made towards the end by (former) Senator Russ Feingold, who points out that while most people think of lobbying as bribery, they often have the picture backwards. It's extortion:
I've had conversations with Democratic givers out here in the Bay Area and I'll tell you, you wouldn't believe the requests they're getting. The opening ante is a million dollars. It's not, gee, it'd be nice if you give a million. That's sort of the baseline. This is unprecedented. And, in fact, one thing that John and I experienced was that sometimes the corporations that didn't like the system would come to us and say, you know, you guys, it's not legalized bribery, it's legalized extortion. Because it's not like the company CEO calls up to say, gee, I'd love to give you some money. It's usually the other way around. The politician or their agent who's got the Super PAC, they're the ones that are calling up and asking for the money.
This is actually confirmed much earlier in the show, when former lobbyist Jimmy Williams explains that part of the job of the lobbyist is to avoid calls from politicians who are always asking for money:
Jimmy Williams: A lot of them would call and say, "Hey, can you host an event for me?" And you never want to say no. Actually, no. You always want to say no. In fact, you always want to say no. But, you could look on your phone with these caller IDs and you would be like, really? I'm not taking that call.

Alex Blumberg: Oh, so you would dodge calls for fundraising?

Jimmy Williams: Oh yeah. Every lobbyist does. Are you kidding? You spend most of your time dodging phone calls. Oh yeah.
What's equally stunning as you listen to it, is how much everyone seems to dislike the system. The politicians hate having to spend many hours each day fundraising (which they do from phone banks across the street from the Capitol, because they're not allowed to do it from their offices). The lobbyists hate having to focus on raising money for the politicians. The donors hate getting the calls asking for more money. One politicians talks about how he burned out all his friends:
Walt Minnick: You essentially wear out your friends and you wear out the people who are your natural supporters, because if someone writes you one check or comes to a fundraiser, they get on a list. And three or four months later you call them back again. And the best thing about being an ex-congressman is my friends now return my phone calls.
The show concludes with a fascinating discussion between Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, who famously passed campaign finance reform a decade or so ago, only to see most of what they worked for get tossed aside by the Supreme Court's Citizens United case. McCain explains that the Supreme Court ruled the way it did because it simply has no idea how corrupt the political system is today:
John McCain: At first, I was outraged. The day that Russ and I went over and observed the arguments, the questions that were asked, the naivety of the questions that were asked and the arrogance of some of the questioners, it was just stunning. Particularly Scalia with his sarcasm. Why shouldn't these people be able to engage in this process? Why do you want to restrict them from their rights of free speech? And the questions they asked showed they had not the slightest clue as to what a political campaign is all about and the role of money that it plays in political campaigns. And I remember when Russ and I walked out of there, I said, Russ, we're going to lose and it's because they are clueless. Remember that day we were over there, Russ?

Russ Feingold: Absolutely, John. I couldn't agree with you more. It clearly was one of the worst decisions ever of the Supreme Court. The trouble with this issue-- and I think John would agree with this-- is people have gotten so down about it, they think it's always been this way. Well, it's never been this way, since 1907. It's never been the case that when you buy toothpaste or detergent or a gallon of gas, that the next day that money can be used on a candidate that you don't believe in. That's brand new. That's never happened since the Tillman act and the Taft Hartley Act. And so, people have to realize this is a whole new deal. It's not business as usual.
So why doesn't it get fixed? Well, because the people in power now know how to use the system to win, so they're afraid to mess with it, and potentially lose their ability to use the system as it stands now to succeed.
Russ Feingold: We managed to get-- against all odds, we did get people. It took a lot of hard work. Now the problem is, of course, is people are reticent to do that because they got elected under the system.

Alex Blumberg: So it's just fear of change?

Russ Feingold: Sure. When you win a certain way, your people say to you, hey, this is how we do it and this is how we won. We better not mess with success. I think that's one of the problems in this presidential race, where not only the Republicans, but even my candidate, President Obama, has opened the door to this unlimited money through some of his people. It's hard to get people to change something after they win that way. And that's one of my worries about it.
It really is worth listening to the whole thing if you want to understand the institutional, unavoidable level of corruption in DC -- even if it's not the way you may have suspected it worked. The folks at Planet Money have also done some follow up stories that are interesting, including a detailing of the most and least lucrative committee assignments. In the full episode, they explain that committee assignments are all a part of the corrupt process. If you get on a "good" committee (define by its ability to raise more money from lobbyists), it also means that your party demands that you pay more money back to the party, or you may lose that lucrative committee seat. Still, it may surprise some folks that the least lucrative position is on the Judiciary Committee. That's the committee that handled SOPA and PIPA... which involved no shortage of lobbyists. The cynical voice in the back of my head wonders if part of the SOPA/PIPA fight was really about turning the Judiciary Committee into a cash-flow positive committee, rather than a cash-flow negative committee.
Also, if you were wondering how/when most political fundraisers happen, there's a breakdown for that as well:
If you've got the money, it looks like you could eat all your meals (and have some drinks) at fundraisers.

And if you're wondering where these fundraisers happen? Planet Money has mapped those out as well. The most common locations happen to (conveniently) form a ring around the Capitol:
No reason to travel very far to collect your money, I guess...


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Jeff (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 6:28am

    Watching our political process is like watching a slow-motion train wreck. It's terrifying to watch, but you're unable to look away. I'm absolutely horrified the direction our country is now going. The steady build up of corporate power at the expense of the ordinary voter is unprecedented. Citizens United is just the tip of the iceberg, and those in power are unwilling to give even a scrap of power. A disenfranchised voter base, and the complete corruption of our political system has sown the seeds of a looming disaster.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:15am

      Re:

      "...A disenfranchised voter base"

      And more so every day. Efforts are underway in many states to deal with the supposed epidemic of "vote fraud" which does not exist -- well, unless you count the broken, rigged voting machines sold by Sequoia, Diebold & company, and of course the legislation doesn't target THAT.

      In the south, racists are working hard to disenfranchise blacks. In the midwest, they're trying to shut out labor and students. In the west, the xenophobes and bigots are trying to curtail voting by anybody with brown skin. These efforts are well-financed, coordinated, and clearly designed to remove as many people as possible who aren't (a) white (b) educated (c) upper-class (d) conservative (e) likely to vote for GOP candidates. Karl Rove must be extremely proud -- this stuff is right out of his playbook.

       

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        DCX2, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:17am

        Re: Re:

        Speaking of vote fraud that doesn't exist, I'm reminded of an incident with the Breitbart/O'Keefe crew where they tried to "prove" that vote fraud existed by attempting to vote as a dead person. They intentionally picked someone who had died only three weeks earlier, knowing that the voter rolls wouldn't have been updated. And yet their fraud was still caught before they had a chance to cast their ballot.

        Moral of the story: You can't even successfully fake voter fraud, so how could it possibly be epidemic?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:45am

          Re: Re: Re:

           

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            Jay (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 3:14pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You're awesome. You go to a conservative website for news even though there are more cases of shark attacks than cases of voter fraud. One example does not equate to an entire nation of problems. Particularly when you're looking at who is corrupting the process by buying out politicians.

             

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          MrWilson, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:59am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "so how could it possibly be epidemic?"

          Because the voting results show that people vote for Democrats and everyone knows that the silent majority of Americans are bigoted religious zealots who want to put women and minorities in their place as servants and corporations in their place as kings, so clearly there must be fraud because every time I turn on Fox News, I only ever see people proudly standing up for American values like curbing a woman's right to birth control and speaking out against Obama's socialist plan to provide much needed healthcare to children and poor people with pre-existing conditions!

           

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:46am

        Re: Re:

        Hmmm and the other side is pushing the exact same thing... if your not voting democrat they dont want you to vote... could it be both side are wrong... oh wait that doesnt support your side so it must be false...

        this partisan bullshit is old...

         

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        tracker1 (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:52am

        Re: Re:

        Or in the 2004 elections where "MoveOn.org" reps posed as voting aids with lists of democrat voters turned away those "not on the list" at voting locations. (Happened at my voting district, and several were arrested)

         

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        Howard the Duck, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:35am

        Re: Re:

        Crock-o-shit. Pull your head out of the Huff Post for a sec.

         

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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:28am

    Gah

    It's so exasperating to see people continue to argue that the only way to remove corruption from politics is to give the government complete control over what people can and can't say near an election.

    McCain-Feingold was trash, and Citizens United was a fantastic decision. I guess that doesn't stop people from trying desperately to be enslaved at any cost, though.

    "Pleeease, save me from the bad political speech, gubmint!"

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:58am

      Re: Gah

      Yes, it's a great idea letting people buy elections, because $1 is free speech, and $100 is 100 times more free speech! Because our founding fathers fully intended for you to have zero free speech rights if you have zero dollars to your name.

      Those poor millionaires and even billionaires don't have enough control over our democracy already. I mean look at poor millionaire Mitt Romney for example. He's paying a cripplingly high 14% tax rate and earned over $20 million a dollars a year doing nothing because of his investments, while the rest of us middle class and poor pay a 'ridiculously low' 25% to 30% of our income in taxes and fees. That's clearly a sign that poor millionaires like Romney aren't being represented enough in our government!

      After all, there's too many average Joe/Jane middle class congressmen who don't have a college degree in office. I mean the senate has ONE whole senator without a college degree! While only around 50% of the US population doesn't have any kind of college education. And over 90% of the senate is millionaires, which clearly makes the poor billionaires too under represented.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:14am

        Re: Re: Gah

        Money isn't speech any more than investments are 'doing nothing' or under-educated congresspeople would be a good thing...

         

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        Kevin L (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:15am

        Re: Re: Gah

        Again with the tax rate comparisons? Maybe no one has explained to you that capital gains taxes are taken out of money that's already been taxed (at the corporate income level). And maybe you forget that about 50% of people don't pay net income taxes, and then complain that the politicians don't care about them.

        The way to get the wealthy career politicians out of office is not to have those same career politicians set the ground rules, in violation of constitutional principle. Who needs a SuperPAC more, a multi-millionaire willing to spend his money on gaining power, or Average Joe?

         

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          DCX2, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:24am

          Re: Re: Re: Gah

          Using this shoddy logic, there should be no sales tax or VAT or anything. Because that money's already been taxed once.

          Another problem with your logic is that since the company has already paid corporate income taxes, then the people who get that money shouldn't be taxed. Well, my employer pays corporate income taxes, so why is my salary taxed? That money has already been taxed once, after all.

          I already paid taxes on my house when I bought it. Why do I still have to pay taxes on my property year after year?

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:51am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

            good question, WHY DO you pay taxes on something you already supposedly own?

             

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              Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 1:05pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

              People who are against taxes usually still want the government services those taxes support. While the parties may disagree on which services to pay for, they both still want government services of some sort.

               

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                Jay (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 3:17pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                I'll have to disagree. From the looks, most Republicans seem dedicated to the idea of destroying government and all types of social support set up by the FDR courts of the 50s and 60s.

                 

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                  Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 3:55pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                  I'll have to disagree. From the looks, most Republicans seem dedicated to the idea of destroying government and all types of social support set up by the FDR courts of the 50s and 60s.

                  They say that, but they will funnel government money to private corporations to run prisons, patrol borders, military supplies/operations, etc. Government budgets have actually gone up during Republican administrations.

                   

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                    Jay (profile), Apr 23rd, 2012 @ 11:26am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                    When I was talking about social support, I'm talking about education, infrastructure, and other principles that require heavy government investment.

                     

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                      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 23rd, 2012 @ 11:36am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                      When I was talking about social support, I'm talking about education, infrastructure, and other principles that require heavy government investment.

                      I definitely support that. I'm skeptical, though, when those on the Right talk about shrinking government. I think we'll just the Bush version: more government spending, but on activities I'd rather not see.

                       

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              Chargone (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 2:01pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

              Dunno about in the USA, but here-abouts property taxes pay for the water supply and various local-government provided services such as public libraries and the like.

              income tax pays for the national level stuff. defense, police, that sort of thing.

              ... the goods and services tax (sales tax, if you like) supposedly does likewise. 'cept it's a regressive tax, so the less money you have the more it screws you over. our government recently (last term, same parties in power though) decided it would be a good idea to lower income taxes (though only by a meaningful amount for those in the top income brackets and they had to borrow money to cover this) and raise the sales tax to compensate, claiming everyone would be better off. ... yeah, the poor got screwed over and mostly made a loss, those in the middle brackets were lucky if it was a net 0 change, the 'average' new zealander who supposedly was so much better off doesn't exist due to falling in the gap between the ACTUAL VAST MAJORITY and the '1%' (though it's probably more like 5 or 10 percent in this case, really.) 'course, being on a benefit (state pension, i guess?) due to major health issues and the like i don't pay income tax as such (technically i do, but in the interests of saving time and resources, it's simply left out of the whole process. can still get tax rebates for donating to charity and the like though. there's a whole chain of logic as to why that works that's beneficial to everyone at every level but kinda complex) but Do pay GST. the GST has a fairly high overhead cost for businesses too. they have to keep track of everything they buy and sell, the tax for each thing, and if they sell more than they buy they have to pay the difference in the taxes, and i don't even Know what happens if they buy more than they sell for this..)

              so, yeah, taxes have their place, but tax structures are often silly.

               

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          silverscarcat (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 4:02pm

          Re: Re: Re: Gah

          "50% of people don't pay net income taxes"

          Please don't bring up such a falsehood.

          They pay excise tax, payroll tax, medicare, medicaid, state and federal withholding, sales tax, gas tax...

          While making less than 25,000 a year.

           

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        Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:16am

        Re: Re: Gah

        Rupert Murdoch could fund a movie praising Romney entirely out of his own pocket, and that would be perfectly legal under McCain-Feingold.

        I, however, am not rich, so I probably couldn't fund an entire movie criticizing Romney out of my own pocket. But I'm in luck! I can band together with other like-minded people, we could pool our funds and create an LLC to make the movie! Oh wait, that was illegal under McCain-Feingold.

        But hey, even though Murdoch (as a private citizen) can make political movies, at least we cut out the big corporations like Fox News, rght? Surely they also wouldn't be allowed to make political comments close to an election? Wait, that was allowed under McCain-Feingold too.

        Free speech only for the rich and their rich corporations, brought to you by McCain-Feingold. Thank god we have the government here to protect us from the wealthy elites through censorship!

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:35am

          Re: Re: Re: Gah

          Corporations are NOT people.

           

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            Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:41am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

            I never said they were. Citizens United never said they were, either.

             

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              Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:59am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

              Sure they did. It was the major building block of their case.
              corporations are people and people have a first amendment right to free speech therefore corporations have a first amendment right to free speech. And if donating money is protected speech then corporations then limiting their ability to "speak" by donating to political campaigns is effectively censoring their speech in violation of their first amendment rights. That is the entire premise of their argument.

               

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                Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:11am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                "Corporations are made of people, each one of which has free speech rights that should be protected" is different from the "corporations are people" nonsense that detractors of the decision like to spout. Answer me this:

                If me and my friends get together, form a non-profit to pool our resources, and make a movie that includes political commentary, should the US government be allowed to stop me? Yes or no.

                The supreme court said no. Does that mean my non-profit can sign up for social security tomorrow? Corporations are not people, but I am, and my free speech rights should be respected regardless of how many other people I band together with to create that speech.

                 

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                Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:16am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                Furthermore, I don't know what this rabbit hole has to do with the post of mine you were responding to.

                The person responding to me was apparently irate that "rich people" can influence elections. I merely pointed out that rich people could influence elections under McCain-Feingold, even rich corporations could do so under McCain-Feingold, and that a lot of people affected by McCain-Feingold were the very people who needed to be able to speak as a group to have any voice at all.

                Then you went off about how corporations are not people. K.

                 

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                  Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:29am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                  The concept of corporate personhood was fundamental to the Citizens United case.

                   

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                    Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:09am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                    Again, how does this have anything to do with what I was discussing (how rich people and big corporations could speak under McCain-Feingold, but not less well-off people)?

                    You're simply reiterating the same thing over and over like a magic ward of protection.

                     

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                      Jay (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 3:23pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                      Lemme help a bit:

                      Citizens United was the case that sets up Political Action Committees to allow money into politics. Since money is speech, rich people have a larger influence on how politicians vote. They can provide anonymous donations in the millions to these PACs and basically show that their money speaks louder than anyone else's views on a subject.

                      In essence, corporations have a constitutional right to speak, even though they aren't real people. And this allows them to run ads, or destroy those that don't do as they say.

                      So even if you formed a merry band, you can set up your own PAC. How you're going to fund it is anyone's guess.

                       

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                    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:24am

                    Re:

                    You haven't addressed Chris's basic premise. Individuals have a right to free speech. Why does that right go away if people come together and create a PAC, or a corporation?

                    The problem isn't that people can buy the influence of government. It's a problem of government having something to sell.

                     

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:49am

        Re: Re: Gah

        love how partisan it is... shall we talk about the 36 multimillionaire democrats in the senate (6 more than the evil republicans)...

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:12am

      Re: Gah

      Yes, because that's the limit of nuance on this issue: either it's anything goes or we're enslaved.

       

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        Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:24am

        Re: Re: Gah

        It's fine; Just give the government a little control over speech, and I'm sure it will all turn out fine in the end.

        After all, it's not like the people creating the laws are already wholly owned by the corporations, so I'm sure they'll keep your best interests at heart while they craft the laws, and in no way will it come back to hurt you rather than the corporations.

        Sleep tight, citizen, your government is working for you.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:36am

          Re: Re: Re: Gah

          Forgive me for noticing that the Citizens United decision didn't ameliorate our lawmakers being wholly owned by the corporations, in fact made it worse, and therefor find your praise of it incongruous with your stated goals.

          As I said, the situation is far more nuanced than you want to portray it.

           

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            Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:51am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

            Forgive me for noticing that the McCain-Feingold law didn't ameliorate our lawmakers being wholly owned by the corporations, in fact made it worse, and therefor find your praise of it incongruous with your stated goals.
            As I said, the situation is far more nuanced than you want to portray it.
            Not really.

            1. As long as you allow government fingers in business, business will have its fingers in government. When the people give more power to the government to take on big business, it only gives big business that control the government more power over the people.

            "We need the FDA to protect us from corporations selling shoddy goods!" people say, and then you find that the upper echelons of Big Pharma have a revolving door with the FDA, where they can use their newly-found power to rubber stamp their own products and run competitors out of business.

            But this time will be different, I'm sure.

            2. Censorship is never the answer to bad speech, because the power you cede to political censors will eventually ensure that only bad speech remains. The answer to bad speech is more good speech.

             

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              Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:18am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

              I'll agree that the limits in McCain-Feingold on airing political content within 30 days of a primary were a violation of the 1st amendment and should have been stricken from the law. Let them air what they want whenever they want though whatever means they want - THAT is a first amendement issue. However, throwing out campaign finance reform altogether by equating corporate contributions to the protected first amendment rights attributed to citizens is a perversion of the constitution.

               

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                Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:32am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                Corporate contributions to political campaigns did not change. They are the same as they always were. Goldman Sachs cannot give the Romney or Obama campaigns a billion dollars, with or without McCain-Feingold, before or after Citizens United.

                It could, if it wanted, use that billion to make its own political ads. That's the only thing Citizens United really changed. A SuperPAC is just an organization of interested parties who want to produce their own speech.

                 

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              Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:25am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

              You must have me confused with someone else. Nowhere have I 'praised' McCain-Feingold.

              1. Is actually some of the nuance I was talking about. It's not as simple as 'who can say what when or spend what money' since the problem goes far deeper in to the core of our governments day to day activity and how said activity affects businesses (practically every business these days). Maybe check my comments downthread? "Increased regulation has always lead inevitably to greater regulatory capture."

              2. Who said anything about censorship? Money isn't speech therefor limiting the money spent is not the same thing as limiting speech. Censorship is never the answer to anything but that's not the issue at all anyway so your point is moot.

               

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                Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 12:45pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gah

                So the government could make a law that prevents private citizens from purchasing a printing press, airtime, video cameras, or pens and paper when those things were going to be used to talk about politics close to an election?

                I'd love to hear both your moral and your legal rationale for such a ridiculous position.

                 

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:29am

    BOO FUCKIN' HOO

    Awwwww. I feel for the poor Congressmen. "But...but...but...it's not bribery, it's extortion and we are the victims."

    No, it's both. You extort money from them which is a bribe to do their bidding.

    Listen to how stupid that sounds coming from a Senator. "I'm not participating THAT crime, I'm participating in THIS one."

     

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    identicon
    bob, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:33am

    And what if your lobbying is disguised as charity?

    Lately we've seen the rise of groups that are ostensibly charities doing lobbying for companies. This is happening in all parts of the economy, but it's particularly prevalent in some parts of the tech industry where people like to believe that actions are good or evil. Naturally, they think of themselves as good and people with other ideas as evil and then they use the charities to do what is in essence lobbying.

    We've seen this lately when some of the astroturfing groups for Big Search accepted big checks for opposing SOPA and this was framed as a charitable action.

    I think the real problem is that some of the folks who go on and on about the evils of lobbying never realize when they're being paid to lobby themselves. Humans form alliances and humans need to petition the government for action. That's just how the system works. But I can't see why one group should be able to get away with calling it a charity while their opponents are upfront about calling it lobbying.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:00am

      Re: And what if your lobbying is disguised as charity?

      "We've seen this lately when some of the astroturfing groups for Big Search accepted big checks for opposing SOPA and this was framed as a charitable action. "

      Care to cite an example? Sorry, I can't take conspiracy theorists like yourself seriously at face value, especially considering the number of times you tend to repeat things that have already been proven false to you.

      "some of the folks who go on and on about the evils of lobbying never realize when they're being paid to lobby themselves."

      I can't help but laugh at this. Really, it's possible for me to be paid in order to promote a particular agenda without realising it? Bull. Either I'm not being paid to voice my opinion (which, personally, I never had been) or whatever I'm being paid doesn't change the opinion I voice (i.e. I would have done the same thing without any money). No, being offered a charitable donation or other payment by an organisation I happen to agree with does not equate to lobbying unless there's string attached that make it so.

      "But I can't see why one group should be able to get away with calling it a charity while their opponents are upfront about calling it lobbying."

      If the action is the same, why does it matter what it's called?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:50am

        Re: Re: And what if your lobbying is disguised as charity?

        Paul, EFF, Google, the Bryn foundation... look it up.

        WAKE UP.

         

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:18am

      Re: And what if your lobbying is disguised as charity?

      Paywall bob continues to be completely oblivious to the massive difference between business interests and civil liberties. The news at 11...

       

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      Jeff (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:36am

      Re: And what if your lobbying is disguised as charity?

      Big search conspiracies!!!!1!!1! They're everywhere!!!


      Does Big Search fly black helicopters yet?? Did Big Search pull the trigger on the grassy knoll?? Did Big Search bury Elvis with Sasquatch and the space alien(tm) in Area 51? Does your mother know you wear your underwear on your head?

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:04am

      Re: And what if your lobbying is disguised as charity?

      I'd tell you to put on your tinfoil hat, but I don't want to appear to be in support of Big Aluminum.

       

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      Chargone (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 2:07pm

      Re: And what if your lobbying is disguised as charity?

      I'm sorry, your credibility died as soon as you tried to claim 'Big Search' was a thing.

      the rest of your post is just mutilating the body.

       

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      silverscarcat (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 4:05pm

      Re: And what if your lobbying is disguised as charity?

      That's 900 losses, bob.

      Please walk out in front of a moving truck before you hurt yourself anymore.

       

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    identicon
    Jason, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:36am

    Double Standard

    What I love about this is that everyone is up in arms about the Citizen's United decision, which basically just allows citizens to form a company with the purpose of engaging in political campaigns. What is so wrong with that, if 1 citizen doesn't have enough resources to get their message out, then they can find more to join in and help them.

    Now, I know this means corporations can do the same, but so what?

    Yeah, I said it, SO WHAT?

    Unions have always thrown around their political muscle, and they're just a bunch of people pooling their money and working together too.

    The elephant in the room is that if groups aren't allowed to participate in the campaign at the end (as the law originally allowed) then who is left? That's right, candidates and THE NEWS NETWORKS. Don't for a minute try and tell me that the GIANT News networks don't try to influence the elections. With the law as it was, they were left with a major voice at the end of campaigns. Hmmm, I wonder why they don't all like the Citizen's United decision?

    But here's my REAL solution to the political campaign issue.

    The FCC needs to force EVERY TV broadcast network and radio station to give a certain amount of FREE advertising time to EVERY candidate registered on the ballot in the area covered by said networks. I am sick and tired of hearing the news media complain about the corruption and money in political campaigns on one hand while with the other one they are raking in the cash. But you're not going to see any talking head on a news network propose this. Its better to pass laws that impede peoples rights to free speech than the media risk losing all that wonderful campaign money.

     

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      Kevin L (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:06am

      Re: Double Standard

      I agree with your analysis, but not your solution, because it's inconsistent with what you said. You say that groups (unions, corporations, PACs) can speak politically however they want and advocate whatever and whoever they want, but then you turn around and say that broadcast corporations have to be ambivalent.

      The better solution is Congressional term limits. It limits the reelection-financing incentive and has the bonus effect of impeding legislation-writing because you will have more new Congresspersons every term than we typically get now.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:08am

      Re: Double Standard

      People watch TV and listen to the radio?

      Not so much, anymore, unless it's bread and circuses -- specifically, "reality TV", which is designed to pander to those of low intelligence and minimal education.

       

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:36am

    Thank you!

    Thank you For this well written inside look into the tripe that is American politics.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:39am

    but ... but ... but ... I thought this was how the system was supposed to work!!!

     

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    lexieliberty (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:43am

    I'm not upset with the system or the politicians. I'm upset with the American people who don't even know what's going on. If I know, then others can know.

     

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    Miko, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:46am

    The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United had nothing to do with the court's knowledge of how corrupt politics is, since nothing in the Constitution tells them to base their decisions on that.

    But while we're on the subject of corruption, it's worth noting that McCain-Feingold had the effect of creating a system of loopholes for incumbents while making it much more difficult for outsiders to get a foot in the door. Even though it was passed by a bipartisan group of incumbents, I'm sure we can agree that they were motivated by only the highest ideals of the value of suppressing free speech and none of them were actually trying to pass an "incumbent protection act," right?

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:51am

    Looks like the business to be in is opening a restaurant near the Capitol.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:55am

    What do you think your lobbying activities were, Mike?

    I would say they aren't so much about money and such, and rather about trying to extort the politician into doing it your way by threatening them in the next election. "do it or we will shame you in the court of public opinion" is powerful and nasty, and often enough doesn't represent the views of the majority, just a very vocal minority.

    Considering your work as a lobbyist, I would think you would have better insight.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:03am

      Re:

      Still harping on that "people voicing their opinion is extortion" bullshit again?

      "Considering your work as a lobbyist"

      Citation? No, Mike having once had an event at Google and the ravings of your broken mind do not count.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:20am

        Re: Re:

        Oops, you forgot all the time Mike spent in Washington over SOPA, working with EFF and other groups as a lobbyist, meeting the politicians.

        You forget all the lobbying efforts that Mike doesn't talk about here on his blog. He has in the past pretty much told us they are none of our business. It's a side of Mike's life he would rather not talk about here, because then more people would realize that he seems to becoming more and more of a paid shill over time. It's why he never talks about all the money Google gives to EFF - except to defend it.

         

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      Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:06am

      Re:

      If you had subtracted the trollish-ness from your post, you could actually have made a worthwhile point in all that.

      Imagine Lamar Smith runs for president, and close to the election, Mike posts an article reminding people about SOPA and Lamar's unwavering support of it. Should the government step in to make Mike take the post down, pay a huge fine, and/or go to jail? After all, Techdirt is a corporation, and we don't want corporations influencing politics*, right?

      *Except, of course, the corporations that the people who currently control the justice system allow to influence politics, like Fox and MSNBC.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:18am

        Re: Re:

        You almost got it Chris. The issue is that the loudest groups get to set the policy, not the public as a whole. Remember Kerry getting knocked off by the Swift Boat Vets? There weren't a majority, but they were certainly noisy, and certainly willing to dog him every day.

        It's on par with the idiotic birthers (and I am sure there are a few here on Techdirt) going after Obama. It's a moronic argument, but they are noisy, they don't go away, and they will be back to dog Obama all through this election cycle.

        It ends up being a form of extortion, where the minority gets to dictate to the majority what will happen. It's sad.

         

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          Almost Anonymous (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:12am

          Re: Re: Re:

          It's on par with the idiotic birthers (and I am sure there are a few here on Techdirt) going after Obama. It's a moronic argument, but they are noisy, they don't go away, and they will be back to dog Obama all through this election cycle.

          Especially when the birther has deep pockets, for instance the birther whose name rhymes with Bonald Drump. He's not content to just be a birther though, he's decided to go full retard and jump on the 'vaccines cause autism' bandwagon too.

          p.s. This is by no means any kind of endorsement of Obama, who has done almost exactly the opposite of anything he said he would do while he was campaigning.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:37pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Anyone who doesn't agree with you gets tagged with a derogatory name. You MUST be a politician. If you're not, you know where to apply.

          Lobbying, either "good" or "bad" should be abolished, end of story. Or, rename it to "helping out a friend with benefits", at least be honest about it... but you're so corrupted you even come up with corrupted terms for the idiocies you rationalize.

           

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      Leigh Beadon (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:16am

      Re:

      I would say they aren't so much about money and such, and rather about trying to extort the politician into doing it your way by threatening them in the next election. "do it or we will shame you in the court of public opinion"

      Um. That sounds like a perfect description of the proper democratic process, laced with nasty words to make it somehow sound wrong.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:50am

        Re: Re:

        So you think the democratic process is the vocal minority telling the majority what to do? Wow!

         

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          Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Democracy is not inherently moral or immoral. A gang rape does not gain moral legitimacy merely because more people are for it than against it.

           

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          Leigh Beadon (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:57am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I think the democratic process is people being vocal. You seem to think people should not be allowed to speak, lest they accidentally speak louder than you would like.

          If the majority doesn't agree, they don't have to listen to the vocal minority. This is the "court of public opinion" after all. Lawmakers have plenty of opportunity to make their side heard — if people are siding against them, that has nothing to do with "vocal minorities" somehow distorting the debate. It's simply people siding against them.

           

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          •  
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:04am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "I think the democratic process is people being vocal. You seem to think people should not be allowed to speak, lest they accidentally speak louder than you would like."

            I don't know how you get to that. I think everyone should have the right to speak equally. I dislike and disagree with groups who attempt to dominate a discussion, to the point of driving it into the weeds.

            "If the majority doesn't agree, they don't have to listen to the vocal minority. "

            The vocal minority does their best to drive things off the tracks before the majority gets their say. Rather than accepting that the majority voted these people in, and accepting that, they protest at every turn, no matter what the will of the people truly is.

            If you don't like what politicians are doing, vote the bums out and put your own people in there. If you are truly the majority, you can do it. If you cannot, then respect the majority.

             

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              Chris Rhodes (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:11am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Um, if the majority really wants SOPA, they can vote in people that will do it regardless of public outrage.

              It works both ways.

               

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              John Fenderson (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 12:30pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              If you don't like what politicians are doing, vote the bums out and put your own people in there.


              Unless the system as a whole is reformed, this does not work as a solution. The politicians are not the ones calling the shots.

               

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          silverscarcat (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 4:09pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "So you think the democratic process is the vocal minority telling the majority what to do? Wow!"

          I thought that was the way it worked...

          The vocal minority (Congress) tells the Majority (people) what to do.

           

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      identicon
      DCX2, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:35am

      Re:

      I would say they aren't so much about money and such, and rather about trying to extort the politician into doing it your way by threatening them in the next election.

      Gee, and here I thought that holding politicians accountable for their actions was part of what democracy was...

       

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      identicon
      Lord Binky, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:48am

      Re:

      I SHAME YOU FOR DOING WELL!... Wait... I don't think that will work.. Apparently, they are only going to get shamed for shameful things... Like making uneducated decisions that are harmful. I hope it's more powerful than the threat of what company is going to hire them to lobby for them after their leave office.

       

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    Toot Rue (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:12am

    The only way to get corporations out of government

    is to get government out of corporations.

    If government is going to pick winners and losers then surely the corporations would be fools not to try to influence the outcome.

    The current state of things is a natural evolution of the government trying to get more and more involved in pretty much everything.

    The only way to stop this is to get the government out of anything it doesn't absolutely need to be in.

    Libertarianism, sure, but also reality.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:25am

      Re: The only way to get corporations out of government

      Increased regulation has always lead inevitably to greater regulatory capture.

       

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    identicon
    Aliasundercover, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:31am

    Corporations & Corporations

    There are corporations and there are corporations. The key issue is how they are controlled.

    The sort we normally name with that word are controlled by shares which are bought and sold. A corporation like this is property which may be controlled by anyone foreign or domestic likely through yet more corporations. Shareholder corporations are an amazingly powerful device for concentrating economic power. There are a useful device because many projects which serve our interests require great concentrations of wealth. While useful they also represent a danger as political power goes along with the economic power.

    Another sort can be controlled by votes of members, one person, one vote to name the officers who make actual working decisions.

    It is the difference between property and people. The former is a possession like your car or toothbrush. The latter is an assembly of people. If there were any sense in the law the former would be regulated while the later would enjoy the freedom of assembly guaranteed by the first amendment. It is not hard to tell the difference. Neither would it be hard to organize along the lines of one member one vote when the purpose is political action.

    Calling corporations people is a cynical tactic designed to raise property to the level of citizenship giving undemocratic power to those with the property.

     

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    AR (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:32am

    Ridiculous? Maybe, Maybe not

    I know this is going to sound crazy at first, but the more you think about it, It makes a lot of sense. I read this about a month ago and found the arguments very compelling.

    "What's wrong with Congress? It's not big enough"
    http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/09/opinion/flynn-expand-congress/index.html

    Now I'm not one for big government BUT, better representation cant be a bad thing. It may also help with the stranglehold Government greed and corporate lobbyists/interests have on the US. With more bribe money needed to force their agendas, they may just go broke trying to do it.
    Its just food for thought and I would like to it its merits debated.

     

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    Doug B (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:40am

    Itunes? WTF?

    Anyone have a link that i can download this thing without having to install stupid freaking itunes? I can listen for free, but can't put the damn thing on my mp3 player without a software download? Really?

     

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    identicon
    Charlie Dickens, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:57am

    How Exciting!

    What a wonderful opportunity for those with all the advantages money can buy to take advantage of others with the same advantage. God I love this country. Not only do the rich prey on the working class and poor, they prey on each other. Now that’s equal treatment and opportunity.

    I agree that America needs to wake up, but who will ring the bell? How can you distract the not-so-intelligencia from their reality TV, Fox Entertainment (I will not call it news) and the Oprah Wimpy Network. How can information compete with the gladiatorial games of the week, day, hour, etc? Football, Basketball, Baseball, Hockey, NASCAR, Curling, Ice Dancing, Figure Skating, the Olympics, and Soccer cannot be ignored. We are so distracted that it takes an earnest effort to find real information and valuable data to keep informed. Everything is couched in the “Entertainment” comforter and disguised as news for the rabble. If you listen to these sound-bites you might feel informed, but only come away confused.


    There are honestly too few real sources of information worthy of consideration. There is too much noise and too little music for those that care. We really need to work to find the pearls among the swine. Or was that casting your pearls as swine? No, it was making a silk purse from a Congressman’s ear.

    Still is should all be illegal, but then how could it be if the nation is built on this activity?

     

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    Dan J. (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:14am

    That's how we felt...

    "And the questions they asked showed they had not the slightest clue as to what a political campaign is all about and the role of money that it plays in political campaigns. And I remember when Russ and I walked out of there, I said, Russ, we're going to lose and it's because they are clueless."

    Yeah, that's pretty much how we feel every time we see the latest Internet bill you're proposing.

     

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    Thomas (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:16am

    Lobbying..

    It doesn't matter if you call it bribery or extortion - it's illegal, but it is so common and so ingrained into our culture that there is no way to stop it. Congress, the White House, and the judiciary can't survive without the infusion of money and drugs and hookers that are provided by lobbyists.

    The only difference is that in the U.S. we call it lobbying, other countries simply call it bribery.

     

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    rubberpants, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:29am

    Rootstrikers

    As most of you know Larry Lessig has been working in this area for some time. Here's an older but good presentation on how congress being more beholden to their funders than their constituants is the root of many of the problems we're fighting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gpbfY-atMk

     

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    Almost Anonymous (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:37am

    It really is worth listening to the whole thing if you want to understand the institutional, unavoidable level of corruption in DC -- even if it's not the way you may have suspected it worked.

    You know, I would, but I don't know what we'd do with all the vomit.
    --Brad Garrett as Robert Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond)

     

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    Mike Raffety (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 12:25pm

    Connect with fans, reason to buy!

    It seems to me like our politicians have learned this lesson very well, offering up a scarce resource (their time and vote), and giving the lobbyists a reason to buy!

     

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    identicon
    marty, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 4:11pm

    Bribery or Extortion...same difference

    Politician or Crooks... more of the same

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2012 @ 2:08am

    Lobbying is worse than both things.

     

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    identicon
    1 Used Trucks, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 4:15am

    1 Used Trucks

    I found lots of useful information here. The post was professionally written and I feel like the author has extensive knowledge about this subject.

     

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    icon
    jdlaughead (profile), Jan 19th, 2014 @ 9:31am

    How to end Bribery & Extortion in Congress

    To elect the House of Representatives by LOT, that way there would be no need for campaign money, and everyone who is a citizen could be a candidate for office. The word BALLOT, split in half, is BAL. LOT, which stands for BALL LOT, which is how democracy started. The Greeks wrote their name on a Ball and dropped it into a tub, and felt the one who was picked, was chosen by the GODS. In the Constitution it doesn't say how a representative is elected only that they be CHOSEN by there State. This in the second paragraph of the Constitution of the United States. This would end both parties controlling the people, The one elected voting honestly and represent their people. Election by Lot is called Sortition. Ask your Congressman about it, he won't answer you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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