Saturday, February 18, 2006

Lobbyists and their Money

The Center for Responsive Politics tells us that the lobbyist money split for the last 15 years is $53M to Republicans and $48M to Democrats, a period of time when the Republicans have been in the majority of both houses of Congress pretty consistently. (HT: Powerline) The prevailing political thought is that whatever party is in power will get more money because they have the ability to get legislation through. So the fact that when in power the Republicans got more money isn't surprising.

Compare that with the early 90's when the Democrats were in charge. They were then pulling in the bucks 70/30 over the Republicans. Today the Republicans are leading 55/45, which is almost exactly the split of representation, the Democrats never had anything remotely close to a 70/30 representative lead. Interesting?

There are multiple possible explanations for this.

The obvious one is that the system works the way it is supposed to. Lobbyists represent issues or groups and they give their money to policitians that they think will vote with them on their issues or the issues of the group they represent. Since the majority of lobbying is done to get the government to give their group/issue more money than they spend on lobbying, people in favor of larger government (Democrats more than Republicans although neither is without sin), more lobbyists are hanging out with Donkeys than Elephants. When the Democrats fell out of power their ability to deliver the gravy train fell off so the gifts from their lobbyists fell. Since the Democrats weren't shy about using the filibuster and former President Clinton wasn't bashful with the veto pen, the Republicans only have had the ability to really pay off their lobbyists for the short time that they have had a 55/45 lead in the Senate. And while they have to some degree paid off their contributors they have been kind of distracted with this little thing called a war which has been straining the budget. In order to keep the base happy, who are more conservative than the politicians themselves and are much more likely to be small government conservatives at that, they can only afford a few bridges to nowhere. Sending a lobbyist into a small government conservative's office asking for a handout is a lot like sending a chicken into the fox's den. You might lobby them for non-economic changes in law but not for a handout. My impression is that there is a lot more lobbying money in the latter than the former.

The second possible answer is that the Democrats just represent more special interests, or at least more special interests with big wallets. We know that lawyers give more money to Democrats as do unions and the AARP. Those are three groups with a lot of cash. Being in power is not going to suddenly draw a lot of union money to the Republicans. Most Republicans think unions, and not the words in the constitution, are outdated and should be ignored in the modern world. The drop in donations to Democrats (or rise to Republicans) simply represents some pragmatism but not their desires.

The third possible answer is that McCain-Feingold and other lobbying reforms over the years didn't change in any way the amount of money that is being spent lobbying, it just changed how it is getting spent. 527 groups favoring Democrats greatly outspent those favoring Republicans. What does lobbyist money get spent on? Advertising on TV, radio, the Internet, newspapers, polling and sending out flyers. What did the 527s spend their money on? Same thing. Not only is the paltry $5M difference in lobbying money over 15 years insignificant in light of the kind of money George Soros threw around, the whole $101M is. Georgy spent way more than that on one election. People looking for a handout for their favorite cause greatly favor Democrats who, by and large, think that the federal government spending more money will fix everything. It wasn't Republican control of the congress that changed the spending habits of people wanting to lobby, it was campaign finance reforms over the years that changed the way the money gets funneled into advertising. As lobbyists faced more and more restrictions on hard and traditional soft money they found new ways to spend their advertising dollars.

My guess is that latter is closest to explaining what the Center found. Proving it would require doing a bunch of research and correlation that I don't have the resources to do. I admit that it also tends to lean towards my own opinions on the system so my judgement could be a little clouded on this topic.


Post a Comment

<< Home