Administration Lobbyist Ban Not Doing What It's Supposed To Do

from the too-bad dept

While conceptually, I think many people appreciate President Obama's stance against bringing lobbyists into his administration, in all practicality, the rule has been a combination of meaningless or troubling. Tom Barger points to a NY Times article where many people are upset that some extremely qualified folks who worked for non-profit human rights organizations are being denied positions in the administration. There's been some pushing to get the administration to make an exception for human rights and non-profit lobbyists, noting that the intent of the rule was to bar corporate lobbyists from gaining too much influence, but the administration has struck down those suggestions, saying it leads to a slippery slope.

But, of course, in reality, we know that slippery slope already exists. That's because the ban on "lobbyists" is really only being used for folks who were officially registered as lobbyists. That leaves out tons of people who worked for these corporate entities or even for the lobbyist groups themselves, but weren't officially registered lobbyists themselves. We've already seen how the Justice Department is, for example, being filled with lawyers who regularly worked with the RIAA, MPAA and BSA -- three of the biggest copyright lobbying organizations, and those individuals have wasted no time in expressing their desire to continue pushing those industry's viewpoints in their new positions.

So the idea that lobbyists are being kept out is pretty silly. As the NY Times article notes, all this really does is encourage lobbyists not to register themselves as lobbyists, but to focus on lobbying unofficially, so that they can still get administration positions at a later date. That creates less openness and transparency, and a larger risk of regulatory capture, rather than a diminished one. We all like the idea of trying to keep corporate influence out of the law making (and law enforcement) side of government, but a blanket ban on all lobbyists, while letting non-lobbyist lobbyists in the back door isn't exactly reassuring.


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  1.  
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    Tgeigs, Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 12:24pm

    "but a blanket ban on all lobbyists, while letting non-lobbyist lobbyists in the back door isn't exactly reassuring".

    I have a headache...

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 12:51pm

    Run em all outta Washington!

     

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  3.  
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    :Lobo Santo, Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 1:15pm

    Guns...

    I'm pretty sure the whole "Right to bear Arms" thing existed for this reason... if the congress-dudes were deathly afraid of all those backwoods hicks with their Kentucky long rifles, maybe they would stop and THINK for a moment before ignorantly screwing their constituents.

     

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  4.  
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    LostSailor, Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 1:27pm

    When a Lobbyist Is Not a Lobbyist

    We all like the idea of trying to keep corporate influence out of the law making (and law enforcement) side of government, but a blanket ban on all lobbyists, while letting non-lobbyist lobbyists in the back door isn't exactly reassuring.

    It may be sad that certain lobbyists from non-corporate organizations (human rights organizations, some non-profits) aren't being hired because of a ban on registered lobbyists, but your proposed suggestion that all "non-lobbyist lobbyists" is completely unworkable.

    How, exactly do you define a "non-lobbyist lobbyist"? Is anyone who works for a corporation and who either advises a lawmaker or asks for certain legislation a "non-lobbyist lobbyist"? Even if they do it on their own time? Or is this one of those "I know a non-lobbyist lobbyist when I see it"?

    While I don't consider all corporate lobbying bad, per se, I support the administrations rule as well as confining it to registered lobbyists.

    Sorry that some deserving lobbyists didn't get jobs while some apparently non-deserving "non-lobbyist lobbyists" did. It ain't a perfect world.

     

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    Mike (profile), Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 1:52pm

    Re: When a Lobbyist Is Not a Lobbyist

    Sorry that some deserving lobbyists didn't get jobs while some apparently non-deserving "non-lobbyist lobbyists" did. It ain't a perfect world.

    Wow. How sad. It's not a perfect world so don't bother fixing it. Yikes.

     

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  6.  
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    fwkk, Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 2:02pm

    Re: When a Lobbyist Is Not a Lobbyist

    Is there any reason why any special interest group, profit or nonprofit, should have any more access to Congress than a nonmember? Any meeting between a lobbyist and a Congressmember would magnify the power of the lobby beyond everyone else's and undermine the power of everyone's vote. One of the things that makes unregistered lobbying undermine majority representation is that it is done in private, so it is hard to tell what exactly motivates each representative's decisions.

    Granted, the government will want to consult with experts when it makes certain decisions, but it can rely on experts within governmental agencies, like the FCC, (from which lobbyists should also be banned) or it can hold hearings on the record. Even if there are lobbyists or members of nonprofits at the hearings, we can look at the information upon which any Congressional decision made after the hearings is based. It is true that agencies and hearings can be slow-moving, but is that worse than biased legislation?

    As internet access expands, Congressmembers can gauge public opinion more and more easily and cater to the constituents who elected them. Let lobbyists try to convince the public of the merit of their ideas. That is the real arena in which ideas should do battle.

     

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    Ryan, Apr 23rd, 2009 @ 2:37pm

    Re: Re: When a Lobbyist Is Not a Lobbyist

    "Experts within governmental agencies" is kind of like saying "NAACP proponents within the KKK". Well, maybe not that extreme, but...

    There really isn't a good way to set how Congress should determine who gets what. It is the inherent nature of government that, as the only legitimate entity that can coerce citizens into one course of action or another with the threat of punishment, the system will get gamed. And since government is composed of humans--humans that suddenly receive enormous power and lack of transparency and accountability beyond their public facade--its member politicians will soon become extremely biased. And its bad for the country because we now expend resources lobbying politicians and filling their coffers to get our way instead of doing the things that actually progress society, like innovating and investing and acting responsibly.

    Ideally, government would determine only what actually benefited all, or nearly all, of its citizens and relied upon the monopoly on force(e.g. defense, police, courts), and this would hugely cut down on inefficiency, inequality, moral hazards, regulatory capture, and all those other nasty things that lobbying leads to. To this end, I think the smaller the budget and the smaller the jurisdiction, the less lobbying will skew government interference, but relying on "government experts" and "gauging public opinion" ignores the reality that government doesn't really have much of the former, and doesn't much care about the latter.

    Beyond diminishing the budget and lowering taxes, increasing transparency would probably help a lot; if all politicians had to publicly declare the sources of all income they received, and if the legislating process was made much more open to the public, it would be harder to get away with being in the pocket of special interests.

     

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    LostSailor, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 7:51am

    Re: Re: When a Lobbyist Is Not a Lobbyist

    Once again, Mike, you either miss the point or are deliberately avoiding it.

    Any administration can hire or not hire anyone they want, within certain guidelines, such as civil service and anti-discrimination laws. This administration has announced that they will not hire any former lobbyists and they are apparently trying to abide by that announcement. "Lobbyist" has a very specific definition and there are myriad laws and rules that govern what they can do and how they can do it. Such lobbyists must register themselves as such, and using that registration as a definition of "lobbyist" for the purposes of this administration's policy is a clear, easily understood rule.

    That means that some people who were registered lobbyists for organizations for what you apparently consider "good" organizations have been affected by this rule, while other people who worked in a non-lobbying role for certain trade organizations of which you don't approve have been hired.

    So, apparently you don't actually want a "no lobbyists" rule for this administration. You want a much looser rule where only some non-Mike-approved lobbyists (defined as people who may or may not be lobbyists) are barred from working for the administration.

    Your "non-lobbyist lobbyist" can really only be defined as "anyone who is not a lobbyist but Mike thinks they are anyway." Are these people involved with all for-profit corporations or only those corporations or industries you disagree with? Just the trade organizations of those non-Mike-approved industries? Are all non-profit corporations or their trade organizations okay, or are there some you want to exclude?

    Perhaps you should apply to the administration for the position of Undersecretary for Determining the "Right" Lobbyists and Non-Lobbyist Lobbyists.

     

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  9.  
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    Mike (profile), Apr 24th, 2009 @ 10:24am

    Re: Re: Re: When a Lobbyist Is Not a Lobbyist

    So, apparently you don't actually want a "no lobbyists" rule for this administration. You want a much looser rule where only some non-Mike-approved lobbyists (defined as people who may or may not be lobbyists) are barred from working for the administration.

    No, the point (which I thought was clear, but apparently not) is that the no lobbyist rule isn't doing what it's supposed to do, and a much smarter rule would be to judge each individual separately, considering their ties to industry, whether or not they were a registered lobbyist. If the goal is to keep corporate influence out, then the answer isn't to set up a hard and fast rule that's meaningless in reality, but to use that as a criteria to judge each candidate.

    I mean... really, this isn't very difficult.

    I'm not saying that I need to agree with ever hire. That's ridiculous. I'm saying it's a bit disingenuous to say no lobbyists, but then let them in anyway, without even explaining why.

    I know you love disagreeing with me, and sometimes have a point, but on this one, stop and think for a minute.

     

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  10.  
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    LostSailor, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 11:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: When a Lobbyist Is Not a Lobbyist

    No, the point (which I thought was clear, but apparently not) is that the no lobbyist rule isn't doing what it's supposed to do, and a much smarter rule would be to judge each individual separately, considering their ties to industry, whether or not they were a registered lobbyist. If the goal is to keep corporate influence out, then the answer isn't to set up a hard and fast rule that's meaningless in reality, but to use that as a criteria to judge each candidate.

    Actually, I don't disagree with you. The "no lobbyist" ban is, in many ways, political PR. The realities are that not all corporate lobbying or even influence in government is bad (though much of is certainly corrupting) and that we're never going to eliminate such influence since it's been a fact of life since humans started having government at all.

    The intent should be to minimize corrupting influence (by which I mean influence that causes real corruption, not that might lead to outcomes with which you or I might disagree) to the extent possible and to make such influence as transparent as possible, which also tends to minimize corruption.

    I'm not saying that I need to agree with ever hire. That's ridiculous. I'm saying it's a bit disingenuous to say no lobbyists, but then let them in anyway, without even explaining why.

    Generally, I don't disagree with this either, but it depends on how you define someone as being a lobbyist. I understand that you see that definition very broadly as anyone who ever worked for an organization engaged in lobbying or otherwise trying to influence government. But "lobbyist" does have a very clear definition in Washington, and that is someone who is actually registered as a lobbyist. What may be disingenuous is to say that the rule "isn't doing what it's supposed to do" when it, as defined, actually is. Which is why if you're going to exclude people who have been registered lobbyists, you're going to naturally block people whose lobbying might have been for what we all agree are good causes.

    Regarding the lawyers from RIAA/MPAA etc. who were hired by the Justice Department, if they are working on copyright issues, I agree that it may be a conflict. But instead of excluding them outright, since they have a legitimate view on copyright (whether it is the "right" one or not), I'd suggest that they should be balanced by hiring people with different copyright views. If you're hiring lawyers to deal with copyright issues, they ought to at least know something about copyright and the issues, and such people will naturally have different views on the subject; get both sides.

    I know you love disagreeing with me, and sometimes have a point, but on this one, stop and think for a minute.

    It's not that I love disagreeing with you. I actually agree with many of your viewpoints on these issues, though probably not to the same degree: I'm a firm believer in the public domain as well as in the value of copyright; I agree that copyright has been extended well beyond a reasonable term, and though I would shorten it, I would likely not shorten it as much as you would.


    But what I find most annoying about these debates is inaccuracy, and I've generally called you out where I think you've either misconstrued the facts or are blowing them way out of proportion. I love hyperbole and good snark just as much as the next person, but too much of it can obscure the real issues. In this post, it was the "non-lobbyist lobbyist" that caught my eye: that could define just about anyone.

     

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  11.  
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    Rekrul, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 12:31pm

    Obama is a lying weasel, just like all politicians. His campaign promises mean nothing. He would have said anything to get elected and he had absolutely no intentions of following through on any of it.

     

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