As they correctly note, each of us has a lobbyist representing us in one way or another:
Full disclosure: Many of our relatives and friends are professional lobbyists. But that does not diminish our point. In fact, we would argue, lobbying is essentially a good thing, an integral part of the basic right of all Americans to petition their government. Honest congressional staffers or government officials will tell you that they rely heavily on lobbyists for prompt and accurate information about public issues.
But we also agree that for all its benefits, lobbying has a distinct downside. Not all lobbyists are equal — in terms of moral virtue or political clout. Big-money interests can and do wield too much power on too many issues, and Edwards is right when he says they can "rig the system" against the public interest.
A perfect example: The farm bill, which recently cleared the House of Representatives, continues to provide wasteful subsidies to wealthy agribusiness. The auto industry used its money and muscle to discourage the House from increasing fuel efficiency standards. Pharmaceutical companies have lobbied hard and successfully against allowing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors.
The column also correctly notes that public education has its lobbyists, a point I happily acknowledge. When I was a reporter, I worked for newspapers, which had a lobbying organization, the Missouri Press Association representing us on a state level.
Lobbyists serve a role in our political process, but their effectiveness needs to be as a result of the strength of their arguments, and not the size of their pocketbook. Politicians should accept nothing from lobbyists. Plain and simple. Forget about full disclosure, just don't have anything to disclose. Lobbyists already have a built-in advantage because of their access. Add campaign contributions, dinners at ritzy restaurants, drinks, and the fact that they will do the legislators' work and write their bills for him and that tips the scales much too far in the direction of special interests.
If we ever want to restore public confidence in our legislators, the following steps should be taken:
-Eliminate all contributions from lobbyists and eliminate the practice of lobbyists bundling contributions
-Eliminate all gifts from lobbyists. Perhaps our legislators are not well paid (at least by their standards), but they are paid enough to eat, and they do receive a daily meal allowance while the General Assembly is in session.
-Require legislators to wait for five years after they leave office to become lobbyists. This will stop the current practice of our elected officials lobbying for jobs and kowtowing to special interests to get those jobs during their final years in office.
I don't anticipate any of these things taking place, but hopefully someone will at least try to head in that direction.