Sean Edwards

The American Resurrection

How To Stop Special Interest Once And For All

Special InterestWhy should you care about special interest lobbying? Because people and corporations are paying billions of dollars to influence lawmaking. Laws that govern your life. That’s a problem.

How do we fix this problem? The solution many want to employ will most certainly backfire. And the only solution that’ll work, will probably be unpalatable for many.

So, I think we just need to sit down, throw our tantrum, and take our medicine.

Let’s get into it.

What Is “Special Interest”?

Merriam-Webster defines “special interest” as such: “a person or group seeking to influence legislative or government policy to further often narrowly defined interests.”

When we think of special interests, we think of big oil buying politicians to keep environmental laws off their backs…

Or we think about banks lobbying Congress to relax commercial regulations…

Or we think of Jim Wright lobbying to keep Southwest from flying out of Love Field…

We never think of Joe down the street lobbying his Senators to get a tax break.

Though, technically, they are the same thing.

The Corporate Beast

Big corporations lobbying for special privileges makes most people angry, which is understandable.

Normal people can never match the lobbying might of, lets say, Exxon-Mobil.

Which means Monsanto could–potentially–affect laws in ways that are not favorable to us.

So, the question is… how do we stop that??

People often want to jump to a regulatory solution. Which usually looks like imposing regulations on lobbying.

It makes sense at first. But it could have disastrous effects.

Before we can find a real solution to a problem, we need to find the real cause.

If your lawn mower doesn’t start, you don’t immediately turn it over and try to get it going with your hand.

That would be foolish.

You could lose your hand.

You find the cause, address it, and then let the mower function as it should.

Democracy Under Siege

Here’s the bottom line: We can’t legislate how people interact with their representatives.

Think about that.

By regulating lobbying, we are saying, “You can’t address your representative about how you think the government should operate. At least not in a way we don’t like…”

That hammers at the very foundation of our republic.

Lobbying is one of the core pieces of democracy!

Therefore, lobby regulation is not the answer.

And as we discussed in the post on Citizens United, regulation begets regulation.

There are already lobbying regulations in place, but people found ways around them.

So, lets say we made more regulations. Well, it wouldn’t take long for people to find new loopholes. And then we could pass more regulations. But then there’d be new loopholes.

On and on and on it goes, until we wake up one day and realize we’ve slowly given away every piece of political freedom we have.

Now, our new overlords may be benevolent today, but what about tomorrow?

This is not a good solution. As Federalist No. 10 says, “…The remedy of ‘destroying the liberty’ of some factions is ‘worse than the disease.’”

This is not a good solution. Which means we haven’t identified the root of the problem.

“Our new overlords may be benevolent today, but what about tomorrow?”

Guns, Muggers, and Regulations

To help illustrate the REAL problem, lets look at a mugger on the street.

If a mugger approaches you with a gun, you’ll do anything they say.

But, if you’re super rich, you might be tempted to buy the mugger off.

Or, if you’re an evil super rich person, you might pay them off… and then pay them to go and mug someone you don’t like.

And then, other would be muggers realize rich people are paying them to mug people, and they want a piece of the action. So they go out and look for some “work.”

And before you know it, the streets are filled with thieves, paid by a few morally reproachable people to do their bidding.

What is the solution to this problem?

Hire more muggers to fight the muggers? No. That’s a bad idea.

Get rid of the mugger.

It is the same thing with government.

How It All Went Wrong

Our “special interest” problem began when we first tried to use the government to initiate social change.

We had grand ideas on how society should look, and we thought government should make it happen. We should take care of the poor. We need to protect jobs. Etc.

But the government only has one tool in its tool belt: Cooperation by threat of force.

Pay your taxes… or go to jail. Drive the speed limit… or go to jail. Don’t steal from others… or go to jail.

If it didn’t have this power, we’d be in trouble. Do you think criminals would willingly obey laws if they didn’t have to?

No. The government needs this kind of authority. But it is the only authority it has, and its power must be checked.

Therefore, when one group of people says, “I think oil companies should pay higher taxes so we don’t have to pay for college,” the government has to use force–violence–against people to do it.

What have we done? We’ve created a mugger.

From the perspective of the rich, they’re being robbed at gunpoint. A thief has said, “Give me your money.” It doesn’t matter that it might be for a good cause. It is still theft.

So, the rich are justified in their perspective. The government is attempting to mug them.

Therefore, when the mugger approaches said oil companies, many will comply. But some will attempt to pay the mugger off. And a very few will pay the mugger to go after their competition.

Tssk, tssk, tssk.

How To Make “Special Interest” Lose Interest

Is the answer to make the mugger bigger, meaner, and give it more guns? Or make more muggers?

No!! Because the rich will find a new way to pay them off and/or higher them. Then we’d just have a lot of big, mean, scary muggers running around doing whatever “special interest” wanted them to… which is kind of what we have today…

No, the solution is to get rid of the mugger.

But, this requires that we abandon our idea that government should initiate social change.

It requires that we realize society–not government–is responsible for these changes. If we want to help the poor, it means we need to help the poor. We can’t ask Caesar to do it for us.

Charity is only charity if its voluntary. Otherwise it is just a nice word for slavery and theft.

If we take away the regulations and laws that rob people, then we won’t have people paying them off.

“Special interest” will… lose interest. They won’t care.

That doesn’t mean we won’t have laws. And it doesn’t mean people still won’t try to find a way around said laws.

But when laws are limited to the protection of the individual, the kind of corporate lobbying we see today will almost completely vanish. Which means “special interest” lobbying will have little to no impact on our laws.

And then we can focus our governmental efforts on making sure that evil people don’t harm others.

Like I said, for many, this will be a bitter pill.

So, lets throw our tantrum…

Lets realize we need a new vision for how to make the world a better place (one that doesn’t use the government to do it)…

Lets put on our big kid pants…

And lets just take the dang medicine.

We’ll feel a lot better when its over.

About Sean Edwards

Sean Edwards is an author and a communication strategist. He graduated from the Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Sean has a passion for discussing philosophy and American politics.

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  • Nicely put. I love the way you show what’s not working and then raise the question about the root of the problem… which isn’t what we thought it was. This article is a great introduction into the whole topic because everyone knows this aspect of our system isn’t working. Once you see why it’s not working, you start thinking about what regulations are doing to every aspect of our society and economy more generally.

  • Peggy Hines

    Sean,

    You seem to go to the poor at each turn when you talk about ‘robbing’ through regulation. And again, maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but there is more lobbying than just for helping the poor, and there are plenty of examples of the rich getting richer through lobbying.

    For example, let’s look at environmental lobbyists–those working to ensure that our habitat is habitable in the future. According to OpenSecrets.org, (http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2010/08/pro-environment-groups-were-outmatc/) which seems to be a reliable and reputable site, in 2009 environmental lobby groups spent $22.4 million in federal lobbying efforts to ensure the safety of the planet. In the same year the gas and oil industry spent a whopping $175 million in federal lobbying, apparently to stop efforts to reduce global warming, because clearly it is cheaper to do business that pollutes. I believe the issue is about requiring the reduction of carbon emissions.

    And doesn’t my right to breathe clean air fall along the same lines as my neighbor’s right to not have to listen to my dog bark?

    I’m skeptical that if we “take away regulations and laws” that special interests like the oil and gas industry will ‘lose interest.’

    Just look at FCC deregulation and the media moguls that have flourished using public airwaves. [paraphrasing from New America Foundation Spectrum Policy Program; The Private Use of Public Assets: Examples of Auction and Lease Fees Paid on Public Resources] The nation’s airwaves are one of the most precious natural resources in the Information Age. The Communications Act of 1934 required that a condition for free exclusive licenses was that the companies serve as ‘public trustees’ and fulfill “public interest obligations” like children’s educational programming, public affairs, etc. In 1993 Congress authorized auctions to assign NEW licenses (which had netted about $36 Billion by 2002). As I understand it those who already held licenses continued to use the public asset airwave spectrum rent-free.

    Ok, so the individual was getting a service and a little bit of money into the federal coffers for a public asset.

    A few years later Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which lifted the limit on how many radio stations one company could own, raised the cap of percentage of U.S. TV households to 35 one company could own, deregulated cable rates, eased cross-ownership rules, gave broadcasters free digital TV licenses, and extended the life of a license from five to eight years. This Act was promoted as ensuring that this public asset would provide “more competition, more diversity, lower prices, more jobs and a booming economy.” [CommonCause.org; The Fallout from the Telecommunications Act of 1996: Unintended Consequences and Lessons Learned. http://www.commoncause.org/research-reports/National_050905_Fallout_From_The_Telecommunications_Act_2.pdf%5D A consequence of this Act was that we got media conglomerates, like ClearChannel, AOL Time Warner, etc. Also, according to this report, between 1997 and 2005 the eight telecommunications giants that formed, their corporate parents and three of their trade groups spent more than $400 million in political contributions and lobbying. More figures were cited, but I think that one should be sufficient to show how rich companies are spending voraciously to procure public assets with little benefit to the individual.

    There are a lot of public assets that the government provides (through auction, lease, etc.) to companies with little benefit to the individual, who ostensibly own them in trust.

    How do public assets and private corporations play out in your view?

    • Sean Edwards

      Wow Peggy, I love your questions. And I have to be honest, I’m a little in over head on this one… I just don’t know enough about these industries to give solid answers. I know that’s not a very satisfying answer, but its better than me making stuff up trying to sound smart.

      So I’m sorry I can’t address the specifics of your question. I’m going to have to stew on this. Questions keep flying through my mind, like:

      • What kind of assets would the government own if it only protected individual rights?
      • Would they even own the kind of assets that would get “licensed” off (thereby by making removing the problem entirely)?
      • If they wouldn’t own those assets, would they have ever been developed (like broadband internet)? Meaning, is big government necessary to develop big, advanced infrastructure (like telecommunications)?
      • And if that’s true, how could a libertarian government keep a country competitive in the modern world?
      • Or would the radically free nature of such a country make it easier for private companies to develop these things on their own, thereby making us extremely competitive?

      You’ve got my gears spinning. I like that. But I’m sorry I can’t answer you question… right now 🙂