I’ve supported the Center for Public Integrity for quite a while. They’re one of those “boring” watchdog bodies whose staff does all the nitty-gritty that our lapdog journalists are above. Most times, when you learn of some investigative reporting on network TV or rolled out from the AP — it was initiated by the hardworking staff at the CPI.
Here’s their report on lobbying in Washington — from last April.
Special interests and the lobbyists they employ have reported spending, since 1998, a total of almost $13 billion to influence Congress, the White House and more than 200 federal agencies. They’ve hired a couple thousand former government officials to influence federal policy on everything from abortion and adoption to taxation and welfare. And they’ve filed—most of the time—thousands of pages of disclosure forms with the Senate Office of Public Records and the House Clerk’s Office.
Special interests routinely spend far more on lobbying each election cycle than they do contributing to politicians and political parties. In the 2002 election cycle, the most recent for which complete data exists, the Federal Election Commission reported that $1.6 billion was raised. In that same time period, lobbyists received in payment $4 billion to press their case before the government. In 2000, the last presidential election for which complete data exist, those numbers were $2.3 billion for elections compared to $3.5 billion for lobbying.
Yet the resources devoted to tracking Washington’s political mercenaries and the billions they are paid to influence the decisions of members of Congress and executive branch officials is minimal. The Senate Office of Public Records employs 11 people, and the equivalent House office employs fewer than 35. By contrast, the FEC, which has authority to enforce campaign finance laws, has 391 employees and an annual budget of $52 million.
That may explain why one in five of the companies lobbying the federal government have failed to file one or more disclosure forms required by law. In all, there are 14,000 missing lobbying documents that should have been filed with Congress since 1998, including documents disclosing the activities of 49 of the top 50 lobbying firms.
Since 1998, 79 members of Congress have appointed lobbyists as the treasurers of their campaign committees or leadership PACs. There are 39 sitting members of Congress who currently have lobbyists at the helm of such committees. Lobbyists have also been treasurers for major presidential contenders, including Al Gore’s 2000 campaign.
My personal opinion ends up being something like a Plague on Both Your Houses — that’s both houses of Congress and the two institutional parties. I suppose bipolar partisan politics will remain the order of the day until and unless Americans get up on their hind legs and throw all the bums out of office.