Saturday, April 16, 2005

Doesn’t Cost All That Much to Influence Your Senator or Representative

“A lobbyist is a person who’s supposed to help a politician
make up his mind . . . not only help him, but pay him”
                                                   Will Rogers


It’s stunning how cheap influence comes in Washington. Lockheed Martin came up with $39 million last year to lock down $94 billion in contracts which, if my math is correct is about a dollar for every $2,500.  Talk about return on investment. Not to take away from Lockheed, which is a fine company until and unless we learn otherwise as we did with giant Boeing. But the fact still is that influence is cheap.


I wrote a piece some time back about where the money mostly goes and how we might slow it down, but small business and state government are in on this as well. The US Chamber of Commerce coughed up $193 million and 1,400 local governments sidled up to the trough to the tune of about $35 million. That’s chump-change for corporations doing billions.  And if you wonder why your Congressman or Senator isn’t driving a Ferrari, it’s because most of that dough goes to Political Action Committees (PACS) where your hardworking congress made it legal to contribute in a legislator's name when straight-out bribes got a little iffy.


They get political action all right.  That’s how the recently overhauled and banker-friendly bankruptcy legislation got passed without further regulating credit card issuers who bankrupt the marginal with 36% late-payment fees.  The marginal just got further marginalized and are now on the brink of paying what the mafia considers juice loans on their credit cards.


There’s a certain nostalgia in writing this piece, as it brings to memory another called PAC Formed for Americans to Buy Back Government, the thrust of which was to suggest we citizens get together and pay for the government we need and can’t get. Tax deductible. Perhaps we might be able to outbid the NRA and in agreement with 63% of the voters, return some safety to our neighborhoods.


While I am amazed at how cheap our legislators can be bought, I’m not against lobbying per se.  The theory is right on and inseparable from good government, it’s merely the money that I both decry and disparage---one shouldn’t buy an elected representative, but it’s embarrassing to buy them so cheap. No, lobbying is essential, for no man can know the intricacies of the CIA as well as the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) and to mix them up prior to a vote on spending might substantially improve Chicago’s public transportation without making even a dent in the CIA modus operandi.


Hmmm, come to think of it, maybe pay-as-you-go lobbying isn’t such a good idea after all.