Paying to play political games

Lobbying: What it is, who engages in it and what to do about it


Ebenezer Idowu, Jr., Staff Writer

Did you know there are four branches of government in the U.S.? You may think, “No, there aren’t!” or “Last time I checked, it is legislative, executive and judicial. This imaginary ‘fourth branch’ does not exist.”
Hang on, let me explain.
Theoretically, there are only three branches of government: the legislative branch formulates laws, the executive branch enacts laws and the judicial branch interprets laws to determine if they are in line with the Constitution. That is how the framers of the Constitution originally intended it to be.
But over the last several decades, a fourth figurative “branch” has emerged. What is it? Lobbying.

What is lobbying?
Lobbying, as defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica, refers to “any attempt by individuals or private interest groups to influence the decisions of government [especially legislators].” In layman’s terms, it is when businesses or wealthy individuals buy the favor of a politician so he or she can pass laws that will benefit their company at the expense of others. Here is how it works: a millionaire, corporate CEO or activist group will donate hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to a politician’s election campaign. This effectively puts that politician under the control of that institution should he get elected. Then once the time for passing legislation comes, the magnate dictates the bills that the politician passes. Get enough politicians funded by the same establishment and that institution controls the party. You can see why this could lead to grave problems. It is a shady, dishonest practice, one that accomplishes different objectives, depending on who is funding the politician. If it is a business, they get to skip the difficult, continuous process of competing for customers and use the government to pass laws that benefit them. Think of it as cheating the system. If it is an activist group, they use their political connections to advance their special interests at the expense of others, distorting American democracy.

Which politicians and groups engage in lobbying?
While some have tried to link lobbying to a single political party, the truth is that both parties engage in this system. Senate Republicans provide the most blatant example. In his Newsweek article “Full List of Republican Senators Who Receive Funding from the NRA,” published Sept. 26, 2022, Ewan Palmer reports that roughly 24 GOP senators have received funding from the NRA at some point, and “[Sixteen] have received more than $1 million.” It should come as no surprise, then, that Republican legislators blocked virtually every one of former President Barack Obama’s gun control bills, effectively tying Obama’s hands when it came to gun control, following John Haltiwanger’s piece “Obama faced relentless opposition to gun reform, even after a shooting that left 20 children dead,” published on Aug. 6, 2019, in The Business Insider. They did this, mind you, even after several school shootings, without considering the families of children who had suffered such a terrible demise or the millions of other school children now at risk. And they failed to propose any gun control legislation of their own. Some conservatives might applaud their actions, praising them for defending our constitutional rights. I would like to propose a question to such people: given what I just told you, do you believe Senate Republicans blocked every gun control law from 2012 to 2016 in a fight for our Second Amendment rights or as part of an effort to secure their funding for the next election cycle?
But Democrats do not have clean hands either. Many Democratic candidates received thousands of dollars from teachers unions. Among the recipients of this money, as Kelsey Koberg points out in her Fox News article, “Teachers unions spend big on Democrats ahead of midterm elections,” published Oct. 26, 2022, are recently elected Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. If you see no problem with a teachers union funding political campaigns, keep in mind that these institutions are supposed to advocate for the rights of their members, not fund politics one-sidedly. Should they not use the money they are spending on politics to better the livelihoods of teachers? And how much do the teachers who pay the unions big money to where the money goes? Not much, as it turns out. (An Ed week article by Alyson Klein titled “Do Teachers’ Political Views Align with Their Unions?” published on Dec. 12, 2017, noted that almost a third of teachers registered with unions say the union does not represent their political views.)

How can we put an end to lobbying?
When legislators are first elected to Congress, they have strong connections to the constituents that put them there. How unfortunate that those same connections become weaker as time goes on, especially if the politician does not make a point to regularly receive feedback from their state or district’s voters.
Lobbyists, on the other hand, are right there in Washington D.C. (or the state legislature), easy to contact and be influenced by. They represent a strong temptation for American politicians, one that overcomes most senators and representatives.
That is where everyday citizens come in. We live in a system of government predicated on holding leaders accountable. That means sending petitions to our senators and representatives and voting corrupt politicians out of office.
Do some personal research to find out which legislators cater to lobbyists. Start an awareness campaign (it can simply be talking to friends and family) to alert others of these corrupt politicians. The more people are aware of the issue, the more people will speak their minds at the ballot, holding these leaders accountable.
And the more the leaders are held accountable, the less prevalent lobbying will become. It is that simple. If a politician knows lobbying could cost him reelection, he will drop it like a hot potato. This “fourth branch of government” was never meant to exist. It is a shame it does, but we can change that. Let us work to cut it out of our government structure, and we will reap the benefits.