Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Right-Wing Blog PeachPundit: Lobbyists Are Bad! Except for Corporate Ones.

What would right-wing populism be without brainless sloganeering on behalf of shadowy corporate lobbyists?

Over at PeachPundit Jason Pye linked to a news story about how state agencies paid $25 million to lobbyists to lobby for various agencies over the past legislative here.

Pye offers some commentary on this:

We have a right to redress our grievances and petition the government. Some people go advocate individually, which I’ve done, most pay a professional to handle their business. However, it’s very hard to overlook the influence of money in the legislative process. There are 236 seats in the legislature and everyone wants to get re-elected.

Nothing sounds wrong with any of that to me. Money has a huge impact on the political process, and it's something I've written about time and time again.

And it's understandable how the $25 million figure can upset some people. That's a lot of money. But if you think about it, that's still a very small amount of money considering the scores of different agencies we have in the state. And the article also explicitly states that these people were staffers to the agencies -- meaning they weren't exclusively lobbyists, but also just state employees. And everyone has a right to be an advocate for their cause, especially if it intersects with their work.

For example, an employee of the DOT might spend almost all of his time doing paperwork, but two days out of the year he might head down to the capitol to meet with some legislators and talk about legislation. That doesn't mean the person is a professional lobbyist, that just means that it's one of his many duties.

So the article is a little misleading, as its own content states what I just wrote a little further down:

Most of the state employees who spend time at the Capitol don’t do it full time. Because anyone who lobbies lawmakers must register, the list includes college presidents, the head of the state patrol and the commissioner of the massive Department of Human Resources.

While Jason and the headline make it seem like the state agencies are hiring high-powered lobbyists and wheeler-dealers to push ever-expanding government down our throats, the truth's a lot less menacing. The article makes it sound like all that money is being spent for lobbying, but the fact is that this money pays employees to do their normal jobs most of the time and to spend a minority of their time lobbying. And heck, I'm pretty sure state agencies don't actually directly donate to elected officials -- meaning the actual important part of lobbying isn't even open to them. The dollar figure is how much they paid employees who spent some time lobbying, not how much money they gave to officials.

But here's where things get really perverse as far as Jason's PeachPundit post. Here's how he ends it:

The best thing taxpayers can do is to stay involved, whether it’s forming a taxpayer group or working with already established groups like FreedomWorks for Americans for Prosperity or financially supporting think tanks like the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

To start with, 2 out of the 3 groups he listed primarily lobby on the national level, not on the state level. That means that joining up with them really won't do all that much to the state budget.

Second of all, wasn't Jason's original point that money has too much of an impact on the legislative process? As I showed above, the amount of money the state's agencies are spending on lobbying is actually rather trivial when you account for the facts that I laid out.

If money has too much of an impact, you advocate for public financing of campaigns, which is something many states, municipalities, and other local governments have done to great success.

Instead, what Pye has asked us to do to counter state agency lobbying is to join up and -- this is the most hilarious part -- donate to some of the largest networks of high-powered corporate lobbyists there are.

FreedomWorks is an organization founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who now works for DLA Piper, a large law farm and lobbying outfit.

Now, Pye seems to be doing the 'ol right wing populism routine, where he organizes his followers against the greatest evil to ever touch the earth -- Big Government. Of course, in his mind, FreedomWorks is just an organization out there being selflessly run by Armey to help save the good old taxpayer a ton of money.

Right? Right?

Maybe not.

Here's a small sample of the sort of cash-and-carry politics FreedomWorks is involved in:

- Armey's lobbying outfit represents the life insurance industry. Unsurprisingly, FreedomWorks mobilizes its members to further deregulate life insurance.

- FreedomWorks, hilariously in this time of climate catastrophe, agitates for more oil drilling and fossil fuel exploration. The domestic oil producers and UAE oil sheiks that Armey's firm represents probably are happy about that one.

- FreedomWorks has been agitating against any sort of government involvement in expanding access to healthcare and lowering the cost of drugs. For a gigantic corporate lobby, I think they could do better than to hire hack bloggers who use the word "socialized medicine" four times in a title and paragraph. But they have to continue to scare people with words like that, because if they just said something like universal healthcare or affordable healthcare for all, they wouldn't get very far -- that stuff polls pretty well. But they'd never do that, because Armey's on the payroll of Big Pharma; heck, in one year alone, a single pharmaceutical company paid Armey's firm 1.3 million dollars to shill for their interests.

I'd go into the other two groups -- there's a lot to be said about them, too -- but I'll save them for another day. I'm sure they'll raise their ugly heads, especially the GPPF, which has become a one-stop shop for policy idea horror stories in the age of a Georgia ruled by the GOP.

The ironic part about all this is that corporate lobbies generally like three things: less regulation, gigantic tax cuts for themselves, and healthy subsidies for themselves. Both tend to harm the taxpayer with bigger deficits and deadlier externalities. That doesn't mean there's no such thing as a good tax cut or bad regulation, it just means that advocating these things across the board constantly isn't smart -- it's being a sucker for a big corporate lobbyist.

But in the logic of the far right (and its blogosphere), as long as any group appears ranting about how we need less government (a stupid statement on its face, we need more effective government, not more or less), less taxes (which really translates into shifting the tax burden from the rich to the less well off) and more freedom (how low can someone's IQ be to fall for this crap?) as FreedomWorks so decievingly proclaims, tons of suckers will run off and join their organization and agitate on behalf of corporate bigwigs who don't give a damn about them.

One last bit: PeachPundit might want to check out how much money goes into the state legislature from big private interests who do not have the interests of any tax-paying citizen at heart except for their board and CEO/CFO. Let's just say that the DOT asking one of its employees to take a day off and go talk to a representative at the capitol should be the least of our concerns.


JMP said...

More like this. Perhaps even useful to someone in Ga. & soon... JMP