Dear Next President,
Lobbying is destroying the democratic system in the United States. It masquerades as a form of free-speech, yet its roots, almost like that of an invasive species, expand throughout the local, state, and federal government and rob the American people of a voice while turning their politicians into puppets. How can the government ever represent the will of the people when, in the shadows of political finance, groups that peddle large sums of money to campaigns and politicians are always given a seat at the table while average citizens are left in the dust? Lobbying has always been part of politics, but recently, certain rulings have expanded it. While supporters of lobbying cite free speech in defense of it, lobbying is not about free speech, nor is it about counsel, and too many people who should not lobby are still allowed to. In summary, the American people are having their voice undermined by “special-interest groups;” and new laws need to be passed, corrupted politicians need to be ousted, and rulings previously set in stone need to be overturned in order to protect the American people and ensure the continuity of unabridged American democracy.
Firstly, supporters of lobbying, and more specifically supporters of Citizens United, claim that lobbying is an extension of the right to free speech. To better elaborate, Citizens United is a 2010 ruling by the Supreme Court, which was passed by five Republican justices and opposed by one Republican justice and all three Democratic justices, that, “[grants] corporations the same rights as individuals to spend money on advertisements supporting or opposing candidates for office." In 2014, when Senate Democrats tried to pass a Constitutional amendment that would have done away with Citizens United, Senate Republicans blocked the measure and the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell [R] stated that the Senate Democrats were attempting to, “[Take] an eraser to the First Amendment." Its supporters also claim that Citizens United and lobbying, as a whole, tend to give voices to businesses and Unions that have not, in the past, and would not otherwise have the right to contribute to campaigns. Essentially, they have painted a picture of a country where lobbying exists in an ideal sense: one in which governmental systems are responsible, representative, and incorruptible.
However, the government is not incorruptible and lobbying is not about free speech. Instead lobbying is about buying favors and getting laws passed that benefit the group donating instead of the American people. For example, groups like the NRA, who, since 1990, has donated $20,068,079 to PACs alone and millions more elsewhere to politicians, actively lobby against common-sense gun laws that, for instance, prevent terror-suspects from purchasing weapons. This exact scenario occurred on December 3, 2015 when “Senate Democrats [offered] a series of gun control amendments to the budget bill, which the GOP-controlled Senate voted against." Without wider restrictions on guns, which would limit what kinds of weapons could be sold and who could buy them, the NRA can, in turn, profit more, as regulation would cut into their and gun-manufacturers’ sales of high-powered weaponry and other guns. Currently, these weapons are easier to access given the lack of regulation that exists currently in many states thanks to lobbying like that described previously, where something called the “gun show loophole” is allowed to exist that essentially sums up the essence of deregulation, as people who are not licensed to sell guns can sell them privately; and people can buy from them without any background checks or vetting. Additionally, lobbying has led to extensive tax loopholes that have allowed corporate America to retain the highest profits ever in their sectors while their tax rates are simultaneously some of the lowest they have ever been. The middle and lower class, however, are paying some of the highest tax rates ever imposed on those classes. For example, the current median salary for an American household is $55,775. Taking this into consideration, in 1940, a married couple making that salary (adjusted for inflation) would pay a 4% income tax rate. Today, however, a household making $55,775 every year is paying a 15% income tax rate, and that number jumps to 25% in the next bracket of wealth, which would be over $71,030 but below $143,432 per year, which would have had a 14% tax rate at the height of that bracket and an 8% tax rate at its lowest in 1940.
Furthermore, there isn’t enough oversight dictating who can and cannot lobby, and when civil rights are violated in the process, the foundation upon which lobbying is built needs to be torn down. In this case, although “the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 provides for the disclosure of lobbying activities,” it does not include churches within its legislation. Between the “215 registered religious advocacy groups in Washington,... [they] collectively employed over 1,000 people in the Washington area and spent at least $350 million on religious advocacy." This freedom from disclosure, paired with the millions of tax-exempt dollars that they are allowed to spend, has led to the undermining of civil rights in America via, as a local example, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which Mike Pence and other prominent Indiana Republicans tried to write into law. In 2015, Indy Star reported that, “Pence signed the bill during a private ceremony in his Statehouse office just before 10 a.m. Thursday. He was joined by supportive lawmakers, Franciscan monks and nuns, orthodox Jews, and some of the state's most powerful lobbyists on conservative social issues… Three of the lobbyists who pushed hardest for last year's gay marriage ban — Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute and Eric Miller of Advance America — were among the 70 to 80 guests invited to the private bill signing… Socially conservative advocacy groups were joined by the Catholic Church, Indiana Right to Life, and many evangelical Christians in supporting the measure." The Act would have allowed state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people by making it legal for Indiana businesses to decline services to those individuals on a “religious basis,” and when lobbying turns into support for discrimination, there is inherently a problem. Moreover, despite Wall Street bankers and the parent companies of smaller banks around the country playing a large role in the financial crisis of 2008, only a few have been penalized for predatory lending. Predatory lending was a leading contributor to the financial crisis of the late 2000s, as banks were taking advantage of borrowers, who were being told that they could afford their investments, while the banks knew that those investments would eventually fail because they were too large to pay off. Instead of being banned from lobbying efforts due to the acts that were committed at the time, banks, like Goldman Sachs, who was bailed out by the Treasury Department for ten-billion dollars, and their employees continue to lobby and donate to PACs for candidates as high up in power and potential for power as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Hillary Clinton, all of whom they donated a combined total of $704,641 to out of their $1,431,786 given to Republicans and their $626,344 given to Democrats.
On the other hand, supporters of lobbying also argue that lobbyists exist as a form of counsel, people lawmakers can look to for expertise when writing new laws. Researchers say that, “Lobbying is usually approached either through the perspective of exchange or through the perspective of persuasion. The former concerns “buying of votes,” whereas the latter focuses on lobbyists as sources of information." So, when writing laws about regulations for banks or oil fields, for example, many lawmakers did not go to school for those specific purposes, but those lobbyists did, and they, in turn, may try to advise lawmakers on issues that they are knowledgeable about. As a result, supposedly reasonable legislation can be passed.
In a perfect world, this may be the case, but the fact of the matter is that lobbyists are unreliable sources of information. Contrary to what the supporters of lobbying say, lobbyists may be knowledgeable in an specific area, but the very nature of their job requires them to use whatever “legal” means possible to attain whatever they are seeking. This may include using unreliable sources, studies, or findings to create an appealing narrative around what they are representing. In addition, lobbyists can insert themselves into the quest for information in cases where information is needed to pass a law. In doing so, they may attempt to guide the laws in favor of what would mean the most profit for their industry. As a result, the truth can be misconstrued and progress can take much longer to happen due to misinformation, as we have seen with deniers of climate change within the government, who often are led to cite scientists that represent the best interests of the coal and oil industry in that they present and publish information that is not only inaccurate, but goes against 97% of the scientific community.
In order to protect democracy and the voice of the American people, a number of things can and should be done during the upcoming presidency. At a minimum, there needs to be limitations on who can lobby. Seeing as corporations are not people, they should not be given the same rights as people, which therein goes to say that they, as corporations, should not be allowed to contribute to PACs or individual campaigns. Additionally, there is also the option of passing regulations limiting how much the wealthy elite and lobbyists can contribute in the event that lobbying is not done away with entirely. However, the former-or at least a version of it- is the ideal solution, and the first step in doing so would be to overturn Citizens United or to pass an amendment to the Constitution that would do away with it. Each of these options represents a positive step forward towards a less corrupt and more representative democracy; and, in the next several years, they are steps that will be necessary for the president to take and encourage.