Raising the Stakes
Posted on July 7, 2009
President Obama’s first year in office will be marked by the greatest expenditure of lobbying dollars by the highest number of lobbyists in the history of the world. I’m willing to wager on that prediction – and I’ll give you odds.
It’s a sucker bet. We’ll get a progress report in a couple weeks when second quarter lobbying disclosure reports are due to Congress. We already know that the first quarter of 2009 outpaced the previous year’s expenses. It also saw lobbyist registrations jump by 27 percent. We also know that the Obama Administration and the Congress hadn’t even gotten warmed up yet.
What’s extraordinary is that these increases are taking place as corporate budgets are being severely pared back. Imagine what the numbers would be during a flush economy.
One might be tempted to throw the word ‘hypocrisy’ around, but that would be somewhat unfair. Obama’s rule that “no former lobbyists can work in the Administration unless I say they can work in the Administration” was cynical and insulting to public policy advocates. But it was more silly than anything else –as were his claims that things would change once he got into office.
The fact is that the amount of lobbying has precious little to do with the ethics or the virtue of government. Rather, it has everything to do with the size and reach of government. Individuals, groups, and businesses only spend money on advocacy when they have something to win or lose by government action. When politicians threaten to take more money from people, those people have more to lose. When politicians increase spending, they increase the scramble for those dollars. When they expand regulation they create more battles.
It seems obvious. If you expand government, you increase the role the government plays in our lives. It doesn’t matter if you’re an individual or a business – when you raise the table stakes, Americans will always call the bet.