June 2, 2010

Land of the Superlobbyist

The unholy alliance between businesses, lobbyists and politicians continues:

For more than a decade, Brian L. Wolff was the quintessential Washington insider, serving as one of Rep. Nancy Pelosi's closest aides as she rose through the House and helping to raise millions as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

But the fundraising didn't stop once he left the DCCC. As a top lobbyist at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents major power companies in the climate debate, Wolff has bundled together more than $600,000 in contributions for the DCCC within the past year -- and he hopes to raise $2 million more for the committee by November.

The issue here is not lobbyists, plenty of whom represent honorable causes and have every right to petition politicians. It is when they become involved in the Washington money game that it crosses a line that the average citizen donating a portion of their paycheck never meets.

Put simply, a politician is going to be especially receptive to a lobbyist who donates a large amount of money to their campaign. While the average citizen might meet with a mid-level staffer to discuss an issue, a lobbyist who donates half a million to the campaign has a much better chance of a face-to-face meeting with the politician.

While the politician might not be wholly "in the pocket" of the lobbyist, they will certainly consider the lobbyist's requests in order to secure their share of the money when the next campaign rolls around.

So how do we fix this system? A public financing system is not the answer. Nobody should be forced to support a candidate they don't agree with. Furthermore, any attempt to limit the ability of lobbyists to bundle money would likely be struck down as an abridgment of free speech.

The only real solution is to strengthen transparency and reporting requirements and hold the politicians accountable. Allow them to take the bundled money and let the voters decide if they are representing the interests of the lobbyists or their constituents.

Money is important, but voter support is the true lifeblood for any politician.