Lobbyists “Free Speech”

David Brooks at the NYTimes has said about unlimited campaign funding and lobbying allowed by the Supreme Court in January 2010 – “What?, Me, Worry?” [ye Editor paraphrases only slightly]. But in describing the gridlock over climate change and broader legislation, Felix Salmon at Reuters describes the consequences of the Supreme Court’s sheer blundering judicial gaffe. In effect,  major national policy is now being writ by who has the most lobbying bucks to throw not into the court of public opinion but rather into lobbying’s backrooms and special lunch meetings. Here are Felix’ arguments:

Why has the Obama administration failed utterly to get anything at all done with respect to climate change?One of the reasons is party-political: “Republicans chose to equate climate change with taxation,” said Milken’s Peter Passell, “and a well-financed campaign made climate change denial almost a litmus test for conservative orthodoxy”. Obviously, if you don’t believe in climate change, or if you say you don’t believe in climate change, then you’re never going to be remotely helpful with respect to crafting any kind of bill designed to address it.

But more profoundly — and the reason that the Democrats don’t seem particularly eager to get anything done on this front either — there’s the fact that climate-related legislation is one of those things which will create a large mass of winners with relatively little present-day political clout (us, our children, and our children’s children), alongside a small number of losers with extremely deep pockets and extensive lobbying arms.

One of the best aspects of the great HuffPo investigation of the politics of swipe-fee reform was the way in which it detailed how the issue came to dominate Washington politics precisely because both sides are so well funded. (Essentially, it’s big retailers vs big banks, with the public in the middle.)

As a general rule, it simply isn’t possible to pass legislation where the many benefit but a few entrenched special interests lose out. There are exceptions, of course, but they tend to be extremely hard-fought (think the healthcare and Wall Street reform bills) and unique in many ways.

So lets make no mistake about one of the chief causes of increased gridlock in Washinton and Congress ignoring  the voice of the public – lobby dollars count ever more than public votes.

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