Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Quid Pro Quo Clause

The recent Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court says that any organization and corporation can contribute, without restrictions, to political campaigns. The good news is that this will provide transparency to the process and may stop organizations and corporations from using money on lobbying. Lobbying is not nearly as transparent as the campaign contribution side of politics. For this reason, lobbying has become a major issue in our national politics and there are two sides to the story.

Many in Washington, including our president, have claimed that lobbying is bad and has got to stop. But there are many arguments in favor of lobbying. For instance, lobbying firms provide critical input on legislation that may have been overlooked by congressional members. Lobbyists generally represent both sides of the proposed legislation giving congressmen points of view they may not have considered. Yes, lobbyist support big corporations, but they also support small businesses that would otherwise have no say in the process. Without lobbyists backing small businesses, many would face bankruptcy under new healthcare and financial reform provisions. Besides, the first amendment protects lobbying saying individuals have the right to petition our government. The bottom line is that not all lobbying is bad.

On the other hand, there are plenty of issues with lobbying. Lobbying is growing at an alarming rate and was a 3.5 billion dollar business last year. In 2009, lobbying grew at nearly a 7% rate; meanwhile the economy contracted. There were over 2000 lobbyists working on the financial reform bill. That is nearly 4 lobbyists for every congressperson. The same can be said of lobbyists supporting big oil or green energy, there are thousands of them. Why is lobbying an exploding business? President Obama has passed some major pieces of legislation – financial reform, healthcare reform, and the stimulus. These bills can affect every single American citizen and there is literally trillions of dollars at stake. For instance, on financial reform, lobbyists supported hundreds of different positions including big financial firms, consumer advocacy groups, telecommunications firms, unions, and organizations including AARP. Each firm is lobbying to add a provision, to omit a provision, or to carve out an exception to a provision. It is for this reason that legislation is becoming massive and too convoluted for anyone to understand (even if they read the bill). This is why financial reform, healthcare reform, and the stimulus bills are thousands of pages long and each page contains dozens of provisions. What’s worse is that these laws are not applied consistently amongst individuals, organizations, and corporations. Lobbying, therefore, complicates legislation and makes it nearly impossible to implement the law.

Probably the worst aspect about lobbying is money. Lobbying is a big business, and they provide campaign contributions to politicians to write the proposed legislation in their favor. Congressional members know they need cash to win elections and lobbying firms is one great source of revenue. This quid pro quo manner of doing business in Washington has got to stop.

For this reason, the congressional ethics committee should put together a quid pro quo clause stating any company, individual, or organization represented by lobbying firms or receive government subsidies or work on government projects should be excluded from donating funds to congressional and presidential campaigns. There should also be a provision in this ethics clause that prevents congressional senior staffers from joining a lobbying firm until the congressperson they represent is retired or voted out of office. Some may argue that this proposed quid pro quo clause would violate the recent Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. However, congress can pass any ethics law they deem necessary to ensure the integrity of the legislative branch. Besides, bribes, extortion, and other quid pro quo practices are already illegal in the eyes of the law. And the practice of quid pro quo by congressional members with lobbyists, corporations, and organizations is no exception.

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  1. When the problem is congress, the wrong place to look for a solution is congress.

    What the U.S. Government is, does, and spends is more than 80% unconstitutional. Cut the 80% and the problem you raise, Pat, disappears.

  2. Agreed, but cutting 80% of the government is wishful thinking and not at all realistic. But you are right Congress is the problem and asking them to fix the problem is an oxymoron.

  3. Hi Patrick. Good post.

    This is a tough issue since, as you point out, you can’t restrict lobbying without restricting free speech. My suggestion would be to require all lobbying be done in an open, townhall-style format, with other citizens and reporters free to attend. Let everyone hear what the lobbyists have to say and give others a chance to weigh in. This would force them to make their cases without the ability to add a bribe in the form of financial or voter support.

  4. CW, Interesting suggestion. It seems to make perfect sense and cannot get any more transparent than that.