The International Herald Tribune
The lobbyists' shadow world
When it comes to lobbying Congress, Washington is now a $3-billion-a-year company town. The influence industry is multiplying so fast that no one really knows how many lobbyists are at work these days. Ten years after a law was passed to register and track lobbyists, the Capitol staffs charged with the task are woefully short-handed and lack proper auditing and investigative powers, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.
It found the industry doubling in size in just the past six years. At the same time, government's revolving door has ratcheted up to warp speed: An estimated 240 former members of Congress and U.S. agency heads, as well as 2,000 other senior officials, are now lobbyists, earning salaries only fantasized about in their public service days to gain an entree for major corporations and interest groups.
The $13 billion spent on lobbying since 1998 is more than twice the amount spent by candidates for federal office, yet campaign financing is vetted far more closely for possible abuses than lobbying. Thousands of required lobbying disclosure documents have not been filed, the center found, with no one making a fuss.
Lobbying has now become an established part of representative government. But that doesn't remove the need for far better disclosure rules and regulation, as should be obvious from the tale of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist-insider being investigated because of allegations that he gulled Indian tribes to collect scores of millions of dollars.
A few lawmakers, like Representative Martin Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, have proposed stronger restraints on the congressional alumni who so quickly turn around to lobby their old committees. He would also require disclosure by the murky, mushrooming world of "grass-roots" lobbying via outside pressure groups and television ads. Such good ideas, of course, don't draw the attention of Washington's power lobbyists.