We seem to have started a silly season on hunting lobbyists in Washington politics, a sport that resembles shooting fish in a barrel, except the fish have a better chance of hiding. Both parties and all three candidates can take some blame for this. It cost John McCain five campaign aides, and the latest broadside has Barack Obama aide Greg Craig under the spotlight for representing — among others — a would-be presidential assassin:
Greg Craig, a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama, is a partner at the big-shot DC law firm Williams & Connolly. There Craig represents Pedro Miguel González.
González is president of the Panamanian Legislature and is also under indictment in the U.S. for murdering U.S. Army Sgt. Zak Hernández in 1992.
There’s a big difference between a lobbyist, who is paid to interact with lawmakers such as Mr. Obama, and a lawyer, who works with the courts. But in this situation, González’s indictment has complicated passage of the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement. So there is legislative relevance.
Craig also represented John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan in March 1981 and nearly succeeded. Having Craig as a presidential adviser seems a little tone-deaf in that sense, but that’s not the only controversial client Craig has represented. He also had Kofi Annan as a client to defend him in the Oil-for-Food scandal investigation run by Paul Volcker. Craig represented Ted Kennedy when called as a witness to the rape trial of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith. And in a supreme irony, Craig represented one of the FBI agents accused of illegal surveillance in the Weather Underground cases — the same illegal surveillance that allowed an Obama backer named William Ayers to avoid prosecution.
All of this would be relevant if somehow it was illegal for attorneys to represent clients or lobbyists to petition Congress on behalf of citizens. It’s not; trust me, I looked this up. This will undoubtedly surprise a few people, but the Constitution itself mentions the right for citizens “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Since people assemble and find representatives — lobbyists — to petition for redress of grievances, it seems as though that part of the system works.
Lobbyists, of course, traffic in influence and power. However, that only exists at the federal level to the extent that our Representatives and Senators expand the federal government to control more and more of the lives of its citizenry. While some lobbyists have abused their influence and power to create corruption, it’s the politicians who are the actual corrupt agents. It’s not unlike blaming a mistress for a husband’s infidelity. She certainly has a portion of the moral guilt, but it was the husband who vowed to stay loyal to the wife, not the mistress to keep away from the husband.
I’m not saying that having lobbyists in campaigns is a good idea, but they would be at worst an indirect indicator of the nature of the candidate. Checking the client list only goes so far, too, since most lobbyists have diverse clientele, and lawyers — especially criminal defense attorneys — exist to represent all sides in any dispute. If people want to see fewer lobbyists and less opportunity for corruption, then the only solution is to reduce the power and reach of the federal government in order to eliminate the spoils for which lobbyists pay big money.
If voters want that as an outcome, they should elect the candidates who commit to shrinking regulation and bureaucracy …. if they can find any. Let’s have more real concern over how lobbyists can corrupt self-government and less hysteria about their presence in Washington.