Almost from the beginning, too, lobbying -- because it often took place over a sumptuous dinner or in a well-appointed bar -- raised suspicions that the petitioner had somehow gained an unfair advantage with the lawmaker.
As government has increased in size and scope, lobbying has grown accordingly. Corporations, unions, and interest groups of every stripe send their own lobbyists to Washington and state capitals, or they hire lobbying firms to advocate for their positions.
A decade of lobbying dollars, by industry, 1998 to 2008:
2. Insurance - $1.1 billion
3. Electric Utilities - $1 billion
4. Computers/Internet - $820 million
5. Business Associations - $745 million
6. Education - $727 million (excludes money from teachers' unions)
7. Real Estate - $696 million
8. Oil and Gas - $687 million
9. Hospitals/Nursing Homes - $649 million
10. Miscellaneous Manufacturing and Distributing - $613 million
Lobbyists, by definition, “conduct activities aimed at influencing public officials and especially members of a legislative body on legislation.” Does this practice really fall under the “free speech” guaranteed by the First Amendment?
Well, the Reader’s Digest article attempts to cast a positive spin on the practice of lobbying, calling lobbyists “educators.” The article states:
When the “expert” is also being paid by the very industry it represents, you lose a large amount of objectivity and open the doors to conflicts of interest to run rampant. This is not a matter of an individual citizen, petitioning public officials for a change based on unbiased information.
This is Big Business doing what it does best: using its power and money to strong-arm the legislative process, and it’s all done completely within the boundaries of the law.
An Example From the Auto Industry
The auto industry didn’t make this top 10 list of lobbyists, but that doesn’t mean they were silent. The auto industry spent close to $50 million lobbying Congress in the first nine months of 2008. Where, exactly, did the money go?
According to CBS News, Sen. Carl Levin received $438,304 from the automotive industry, while House Rep. Joe Knollenberg received $879,327. Rep. John Dingell received nearly a million from the industry (Dingell’s wife even once worked as a lobbyist for GM!).
That’s quite a “briefing from the experts,” no? And not surprisingly, all of these people mentioned also supported the bailout.
So while lobbying is, in theory, a great protection of rights and freedom of speech, nowadays, and likely since it first began, there is much more than information being shared between lobbyists and Congress. There’s also massive amounts of money.
Congress’ Biggest Lobbyist? The Pharmaceutical Industry
The pharmaceutical industry spent $1.5 billion lobbying Congress in the last decade, and in so doing has manipulated the government’s involvement with medicine and secondarily reinforced our dependence on them, through government policies.
As you can see in this chart from The Center for Public Integrity, pharmaceutical spending has risen sharply in recent years, which indicates that their “investments” have been paying off.
Although the dollars the pharmaceutical companies spent on lobbying are astronomical by most people's standards, they pale in comparison to the profits this industry generates -- even though the drug companies spend more on lobbying than any other industry.
What did they get for their efforts? Among their top achievements, according to lobbying disclosure reports filed with Congress and accessed by The Center for Public Integrity, were:
• Protecting pharmaceutical patents both within the United States and abroad
• Ensuring greater market access for pharmaceutical companies in international free trade agreements
They also succeeded in ensuring the Prescription Drug User Fee Act was extended. This is the Act that allows the FDA to collect money (called “user fees”) from the drug companies so that they can get more drugs approved and brought more quickly to the market. Again, this means more money for the drug companies and less thorough drug safety reviews for you.
A Note on the Bright Side
Very few people understand that the drug companies and other big industries essentially control the U.S. Congress by their massive lobbying forces. Their relatively minor investments allow them to manipulate votes on key legislation that is highly favorable to their bottom line and almost always in conflict with your best interests.
The good news is that you are among those who are informed about what is really going on, and you can share this knowledge with those in your circle. I remain confident that by spreading truthful, unbiased information over the Internet and beyond, we can make a difference and replace the existing, broken conventional health care paradigm, addicted to drug-based "cures," with one that emphasizes prevention and self-empowerment.