Lobbyists, we hear this presidential season, embody all that’s wrong with Washington.
“For seven long years,” Hillary Clinton tells us, “we’ve had a government of, by and for the corporate special interests. They have been heard first, they have been heard loudest, and they have drowned out everyone else.”
Adds Barack Obama: “The problem we face in America today is not the lack of good ideas. It’s that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die because lobbyists crush them with their money and their influence.”
And the entire rationale for John McCain’s campaign is that he, more than anyone, stands up to lobbyists and follows his own unyielding inner moral compass, regardless of the political consequences.
Small wonder that journalists have been scrutinizing the candidate’s staff members and supporters for connections to special interests.
A better approach would be to look at each candidate’s policy proposals through the prism of lobbying. Specifically, how would a candidate’s vision on a pressing national issue, if enacted, affect the level of special-interest pleading on Capitol Hill and in the long bureaucratic byways in the executive-branch agencies?
The current political environment highlights one of the unclaimed virtues for the small-government agenda: The less a government does, the fewer reasons there are for individuals, businesses, universities, and state and local governments to petition their government for special favors. When government is small, congressional barons don’t hold the fate of entire industries in their well-greased palms. Federal bureaucrats don’t wield unbridled regulatory power to break CEOs. Big decisions are made by private actors in private settings, and obey the will of the marketplace.
Big and intrusive governments set an entirely different set of forces in motion. The endless array of subsidies it dispenses and the regulatory schemes it fosters give birth to rent seeking. Rent seekers form associations to protect their interests. They create political action committees and hire lobbyists. They write checks to the powerful committee chairmen. They become the very Washington insiders the presidential candidates ritualistically denounce.
Take health care. Bruce Vladeck, a former administrator of the gargantuan Medicare ($460 billion) and Medicaid ($360 billion) programs, once characterized the special-interest lobbying that these programs have spawned as the “Medicare-Industrial Complex.” Under these regulatory dinosaurs, lawmakers actually decide which medical procedures, devices, and providers Medicare will cover, and how much it will pay for them.