“A FOR-PROFIT BUSINESS”
Professional politicians have produced a breed of humanitarian hucksters selling policies and products that benefit themselves rather than the American public they are entrusted to serve. Politicians are necessary in our representative government but career politicians are not. Term limits are necessary to protect the public against abuses of power created by career politicians living insulated lives inside Washington where their self-serving deals have become normative.
Historically politicians were citizen legislators who provided short-term patriotic service to the country without remuneration. They were citizens from all walks of life bringing a variety of perspectives to Washington in service to their constituents. What happened? LOBBYISTS.
Lobbyists spent 1.45 billion dollars in 1998. In 2017 lobbyists spent 3.34 billion dollars. How is that money spent? What do lobbyists expect to receive for the billions of dollars they spend? Who benefits? LOBBYISTS, CLIENTS, and POLITICIANS.
Opensecrets.org reports data on lobbying, lobbyists, and lobbying recipients. There is a lot of money changing hands. In 2016 Hillary was at the top of the list. Lobbyists are not charities distributing to the poor – lobbyists spend billions of dollars on politicians to convince the politicians to vote in favor of whatever the lobbyist is peddling. Here is the problem.
What the lobbyist is selling is rarely beneficial to the public but always beneficial to the lobbyist, the lobbyist’s client and to the politician. The longer the politician remains in office the longer he/she is tempted by the myriad of enticements offered by the lobbyist to provide favorable outcomes for the lobbyist’s generous clients. Lobbying is a business and lobbyists are extremely candid and unapologetic about their business goals.
Lobbyists are employees of special interest groups including ideological groups, corporations, companies, non-profits, school districts – anyone with enough money to pay to influence politicians to vote or introduce legislation favorable to themselves. Lobbyists are advocates for their clients. Period. There are no ethical conflicts of interest for the lobbyist – the lobbyist’s job is to influence politicians.
Defenders of lobbying argued that it is a free speech issue. Why shouldn’t individuals be able to approach public officials and try to persuade them to vote in their favor? So, is lobbying free speech or bribery? Good question.
James Madison worried about special interests – in the 18th century special interests were called factions. Whatever special interests were called, it became abundantly clear that lobbying was lucrative, highly effective, and had a staggering potential for corrupting politicians. By the early 20th-century Herbert Hoover complained about the “locust swarm of lobbyists” filling the halls of Congress. The debate between lobbying as free speech or lobbying as bribery escalated.
Eventually the ethics of lobbying was litigated as a free speech issue. The 1953 Supreme Court case Rumely v. United States settled the matter by protecting lobbying as free speech. The predictable result was that the lobbying industry increased exponentially.
Lobbyists who used to spend their money on politicians after elections started spending their money to get preferred politicians re-elected. The marriage between lobbyists and political candidates had the protection of the Supreme Court. Without restrictions on term limits, keeping the marriage intact became a priority. Vast sums of money are contributed directly and indirectly on behalf of special-interest clients to have preferred politicians re-elected. Term limits disrupts the cycle.
The marriage of lobbyists to career politicians has created the Washington swamp that must be drained.
The more money spent on election campaigns the more money is required to compete. A House seat that cost $86,000 in 1976 cost $1.3 million by 2006. PACS have existed since 1944 but super PACS are a result of the Speechnow v FEC in 2010. In an age of instant digital communication it is a distinction without a difference.
Why is so much money being spent by special interest groups to get preferred candidates elected? Lobbying is a business transaction. If you want to know the motive look at the result and follow the money. As of October 2016 sixty members of the U.S. Senate had held elected office for more than 20 years and 36 had held office for more than 30 years. Politicians who come into office with modest net worths and are paid $175,000 salaries leave office as millionaires. How does that happen? LOBBYISTS.
The Ballotpedia Personal Gain Index is a stunning two-part study examining the extent of U.S. Congressional personal gain during their tenure. The findings are disturbing and nonpartisan. For the first time in American history the majority of elected officials are millionaires at the same time that the majority of Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck. No wonder Nancy Pelosi said a $1,000 tax rebate is crumbs – for her it is.
Presidential term limits were ratified in 1951 with the Twenty-Second Amendment “No person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice.” Presidents are limited to two terms – why not all of Congress? And while we are at it why not end the self-serving lifetime pensions Congress awarded themselves and also insist that Congress live by the laws they created for the rest of us “for our own good.”
Lobbying is a for-profit business. Businesses expect a return on their investment and lobbyists investing in preferred politicians is an investment. Term limits will help limit the obscene pay-to-play influence-peddling that has become normative in American politics. Senator David Perdue, Georgia’s Republican senator, pledged to support term limits.
On January 3, 2017 Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to impose term limits on members of Congress. The amendment would limit U.S. senators to two six-year terms and members of the U.S. House of Representatives to three two-year terms. Let’s hope they are successful in this effort.
Term limits will not stop all the graft and influence-peddling in American politics but making a career of graft and influence-peddling will no longer be possible. Political humanitarian hucksters pretending the corrupt deals they make are for the public good must no longer be permitted to kill America with their “kindness.”