Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2004 / 10 Shevat, 5764
The coming anti-lobbyist lobby?
By now, citizens of states participating in today's primaries have had an
earful about the role of "special interests." But defining what a "special
interest" is, as described by presidential primary candidates in the current
debate, is a difficult task. And as their mentor, Bill Clinton, so famously
suggested, it often depends on what your definition of "is," is.
With Hussein in custody and the economy turning the corner, Democrat
presidential aspirants returned to an oft-used, if stale, strategy: a pious
attack on special interests at least those that support some other
The anti-lobbyist rhetoric reached a crescendo over the weekend, with
Democrats creating a circular firing squad of accusations and defenses.
Typical among the politically virtuous was Sen. John Edwards on Sunday's
Face the Nation declaring that were it up to him, he "would ban (lobbyists')
contributions and stop the revolving door from government into lobbying
firms," and require more disclosure a subtle jab at both John Kerry's
lobbyists largesse, and Howard Dean's failure to unseal more than 100 boxes
of gubernatorial records.
This is not a new theme for Edwards. When condemning the role of lobbyists,
he often says Americans should, "cut them off at the knees." Harsh words for
a man whose largest source of political contributions is from fellow trial
lawyers some of the most powerful political muscle on Capitol Hill. Without
this particular special interest, his campaign would be merely struggling to
get out of debt.
He is not alone: All five serious contenders for the Democrat presidential
nomination claim to be the defender of the helpless against special
interests, Washington lobbyists and the Bigs (Big Oil, Big HMOs, Big
Business and other Big bogeymen.). But the truth is, they have all benefited
from such groups, and more important, none would argue for a complete ban on
issue groups or political money and influence.
In fact, four of the five rose to their political positions with the help of
lobbyists and advocacy groups. The three senators in the group John Kerry,
John Edwards and Joseph Lieberman are no strangers to "special interest
groups," as the recipients of donations, volunteers and "advice" from these
same political pariahs. And as governor of Vermont Howard Dean met with and
took campaign funds from individuals or groups who had business in the
state. The fifth, Wesley Clark, is himself a former lobbyist.
All five, particularly the three with day jobs, have an opportunity to do
something about the influence of special interest groups: they can refuse to
meet, take correspondence from, or have anything to do with anyone
associated in any way with any "special interest." But they don't, and
won't, else their campaigns slip into bankrupt obscurity.
They are flawed messengers for the purity crusade, as it's the continued
contact with and actions for various groups that dampens the integrity of
their message. Edwards, along with fellow senators Kerry and Lieberman,
decry the role of "special interests," while at the same time meeting with,
and often assisting, these very same groups through their Senate offices.
And though the term "special interest groups" often evokes the image of
well-heeled Washington lawyers shilling for wealthy conglomerates, such
groups also include the American Heart Association, La Raza, March for
Dimes, NAACP and many others with good intent. Though non-profits are banned
from providing political donations, they nonetheless work overtime to
influence the debate. And their "voter scorecards" and election day
mobilizations are both feared and coveted on the Hill.
But should these groups have no influence in Washington? Should they be
banned from the political debate? How about the AFL-CIO or the Teamsters or
AFSCME? What about NARAL or Planned Parenthood or the Christian Coalition?
And what of the teachers unions, or police and firefighters (ever see Kerry
at a political rally without a "firefighters for Kerry" sign?). Will these
candidates run such "special interests" from the halls of power as well, or
just those who've not yet donated time, money or volunteers to their
And the condemnations always seemed to be aimed at the other guy the guy
that's "awash in lobbyist money." The pious primary preachers point to the
lobbyists in the other candidate's camp while failing to acknowledge the
tasseled-loafer crowd in their own backyard.
So if there is to be a true anti-lobbyist lobby, it will be small: In such
an organization, only those who have not yet sinned may cast the first
political, anti-special interest stone.
JWR contributor Robert Stewart, a former Army intelligence analyst, is now a writer based in
Washington, D.C. Comment by clicking here.
12/30/03: Bush Doctrine, often derided, is paying dividends in peace
11/24/03: Isolationism does not breed immunity
11/10/03: President Bush, like Eisenhower before him, is signaling the beginning of a new epoch
10/21/03: Is this war being won? You bet, just don't ask the congressman with the embarrassingly bad timing
© 2003, Robert Stewart