Lobbying Is a Cost of Doing Business in Washington

Article excerpt

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, $1.42 billion was spent lobbying members of Congress last year. Protection doesn't come cheap.

The total tab for congressional lobbying went up 13 percent in 1998. If the sum were divided equally, it would come out to $2.7 million for each senator and representative -- enough to send all of them back to school for remedial courses in ... everything.

At first blush, $1.42 billion seems like a staggering sum. There are Third World countries with smaller annual gross national products. It's even more than taxpayers are spending for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's travels in her successful senatorial campaign.

But let's put the matter in perspective with a few more statistics: In the 1995-96 session of Congress (the latest for which a figure is available) legislation-happy politicians filed 6,808 bills, most designed to produce massive migraines for some segment of the population.

The Federal Register, where bureaucratic control freaks publish their edicts, now exceeds 69,000 pages.

At the end of 1998, there were 2,188,647 civilian employees of the federal government, most dedicated to driving the rest of us nuts. The estimated federal budget for fiscal 2000 is $1.76 trillion.

Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, is succinct and on target: "An increase in crime spurs gun ownership and the purchase of attack dogs and alarm systems. An increase in government creates more of a demand for defensive lobbying and PAC [political-action committee] contributions."

Despite reformist furor on the subject, there's good and bad lobbying.

The bad lobbying is a quest for alms, and businesses can be as rapacious as anyone else. Some corporations or industry associations lobby for a whack at the pinata of government subsidies. Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist with the Washington firm of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, dryly comments, "Money available from government is blood in the water for sharks."

Corporations that can't compete would like the government to cripple their competition through the application of antitrust laws. Others want the feds to front the costs of research and development on new products. Naturally, they will keep the resulting profits.

The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, lobbies against private-school alternatives and in favor of keeping teachers' hands sunk deep in taxpayers' pockets. …