When Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill, he issued an executive order banning lobbyist contact with government officials on Porkulus spending. After criticism over the ban, Obama modified the order to demand immediate reporting of all lobbyist contacts with administration officials. The Washington Post reports that only a handful of contacts have been revealed despite a massive increase in lobbying efforts, which doesn’t add up even in Obama math:
President Obama ordered federal officials to disclose their contacts with lobbyists trying to influence how the government doles out money to jump-start the economy. Yet few such communications have been reported even though lobbyists say they are busier than ever with the multibillion-dollar stimulus. …
In August, the entire government reported only eight such lobbying contacts. The Pentagon, which controls about $7.4 billion in stimulus spending, reported just one lobbying contact so far this year. The Homeland Security Department, with at least $3 billion to spend, reported none.
Yet the paucity of reporting masks activities by lobbyists and clients eager to obtain stimulus money for their projects. Lobbyists have separately reported work related to stimulus projects, and in many cases have operated in new ways to skirt restrictions on their efforts to influence stimulus spending. …
The Education Department described 19 encounters, including Secretary Arne Duncan’s meetings with the NAACP and other groups, some with detailed descriptions of the discussions. Energy Department reports include barely legible scrawls as well as 159 pages of public comments on a transmission infrastructure program.
The departments of Homeland Security, State and Veterans Affairs, and smaller agencies such as the Smithsonian Institution have made no such reports. The Pentagon confirmed that there has only been one lobbying report filed, describing a query by a lobbyist for a real estate company about the military homeowners assistance program.
It’s important to remember that lobbying Congress and the government is an activity protected by the First Amendment. The people have the right to petition the government for “redress of greivances,” and the bigger government gets, the more redresses it causes. Lobbying firms help organize constituencies, which is neither a virtue or a vice in itself. Corruption occurs because of the monies spent by politicians, for which lobbyists compete, sometimes in a corrupt manner.
However, Obama decided to demonize lobbyists during his presidential campaign (and he’s not the only presidential candidate to do it in 2008, either), and pose as a man who would free Washington from the grip of lobbyists and return it to the people … which makes no sense whatsoever. He made a great show of banning lobbyists and then restricting them, as if lobbyists posed the greatest danger to the Republic. Now his own administration appears very slow to acknowledge those contacts, obviously from the embarrassment of having to admit meeting with Obama’s idea of the devil himself.
If we want to reduce the influence of lobbyists in Washington DC, we have to spend less money and make their rewards more elusive. The real threat to the Republic, in terms of lobbying, is the runaway spending committed by the political class as a means of ensuring re-election — and that’s not just pork-barrel spending, although it’s certainly the worst example of it. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about lobbyist contacts as a potential corrupting influence, and our money could remain in our communities and states, where we could keep a closer eye on it and have more control over how it gets spent.