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Washington lobbyists, influence, and money are concatenate forces in the current political dynamic. The 2008 election cycle saw Barack Obama spend in excess of 730 million on his run for the Presidency. John McCain was seemingly dwarfed, spending only 333 million" (OpenSecrets.org. N.D. 1). The spending however was only a portion of the 5.2 billion spent nationally in the 2008 election cycles (OpenSecrets.org. N.D. 1). Further, the situation seems to be accelerating. In 2010, a midterm election year when political spending tends to wane, the election cycle proved "the most expensive in history, with a total cost that is now expected to equal roughly $4 billion" (Kurtzleben 2010, 1) This figure will be seemingly insignificant to the 2012 election spending, which according to Bill Holman, government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen, could be as much as $8 billion" (Gorenstein, 2011, 1).
The growing ubiquity of money in the political system highlights the enormous influence which insiders and special interest have in Washington. James Barnes article Insiders Say Special Interests Here to Stay discusses this influence in the context of President Obama's new ethic rules.
The Executive Order on Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel
requires that lobbyists who become members of Obama administration will not be able to work on matters they lobbied on for two years, or in the agencies they lobbied during the previous two years. Anyone who leaves the Obama administration will not be able to lobby his administration. The orders also instituted a ban on gifts by lobbyists to members of the administration. (ABC News 2009, 1)
If the influence of special interests will only continue to grow, how will the political process be impacted, who will be the winners and losers, and will the average citizen's voice be drowned out, if that fact has not already occurred?
Rarely does one find agreement between Democratic and Republican parties in Washington on any issue however, in the context of the lobbyist influence prevalent in the Nation's Capital, "more than two thirds of the Democratic Insiders said that the Obama guidelines would not reduce the influence of special interests in Washington, and an astonishing 100% of Republican Insiders concurred" (Barnes 2009, 1). The Obama guidelines are designed to stop the turnstile of lobbyists who become political consultants inside the administration and vice versa. Interestingly though, despite the belief that the rules will not significantly impinge on lobbyist conduct and influence, the respondents indicated that both Republican and Democratic Insiders "who are part of the influence industry said that Obama's rules were too restrictive" (Barnes 2009, 2). This bifurcation between the reality that ethics laws will not substantively effect lobbyist influence, and the perception that the rules are too tough, can be summed up by a non-lobbyist who is close to the administration; "the cries of unfairness coming from K. Street are proof that the medicine is working just fine" (Barnes 2009, 4).
Winners and Losers
The nature of legislation is that there are winners and losers, in some cases defined, and in others unintended. Because legislation crafted by 535 Congressional members directly and indirectly impacts millions of American, businesses, and advocacy groups, there is a need for the voice of those impacted to be heard. "As long as there is legislation there will be lobbyists" (Barnes 2009, 4). Independent of Obama's new ethical guidelines the influence of specific lobbyists will change as it does from administration to administration. Under Bush's tenure the lobbying and campaign donations poured in from the financial, oil and gas, and Fortune 500 firms (OpenSectrets.org. N.D. 1). Under the Obama Administration, political insiders predict: wind, solar and alternative energy groups, environmental groups, and the AFL-CIO will provide the campaign funding and control the biggest influence in Washington. The winners under President Bush will invert to the bottom of the pecking order as the American Petroleum Institute, Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America will take a substantial hit in their clout (Barnes 2009, 2).
Which Voice Matters?
The considerable influence of money and lobbyists on legislation and executive decisions begs the question as to whether those without either (money or influence) have any real voice in Washington. Obama's ethical guidelines…[continue]
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