Walter Williams: Attacking Lobbyists is Wrong Battle

Walter Williams, once again, cuts through all the political posturing about the rationale for lobbying reforms in his latest editorial:

…Whatever actions Congress might take in the matter of lobbying are going to be just as disappointing in ending influence-peddling as their Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known as the McCain-Feingold bill. Before we allow ourselves to be bamboozled by our political leaders, we might do our own analysis to determine whether the problem is money in politics or something more fundamental.
Let’s start this analysis with a question. Why do corporations, unions and other interest groups fork over millions of dollars to the campaign coffers of politicians? Is it because these groups are extraordinarily civic-minded Americans who have a deep interest in congressmen doing their jobs of upholding and defending the U.S. Constitution?…Anyone answering in the affirmative…probably also believes that storks deliver babies and there really is an Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
A much better explanation for the millions going to the campaign coffers of Washington politicians lies in the awesome growth of government control over business, property, employment and other areas of our lives. Having such power, Washington politicians are in the position to grant favors. The greater their power to grant favors, the greater the value of being able to influence Congress, and there’s no better influence than money.
The generic favor sought is to get Congress, under one ruse or another, to grant a privilege or right to one group of Americans that will be denied another group of Americans. A variant of this privilege is to get Congress to do something that would be criminal if done privately.
Here’s just one among possibly thousands of examples. If Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) used goons and violence to stop people from buying sugar from Caribbean producers so that sugar prices would rise, making it easier for ADM to sell more of its corn syrup sweetener, they’d wind up in jail. If they line the coffers of congressmen, they can buy the same result without risking imprisonment. Congress simply does the dirty work for them by enacting sugar import quotas and tariffs…
…A tweak here and a tweak there in the tax code can mean millions of dollars.
…Campaign finance and lobby reform will only change the method of influence-peddling. If Congress did only what’s specifically enumerated in our Constitution, influence-peddling would be a non-issue simply because the Constitution contains no authority for Congress to grant favors and special privileges. Nearly two decades ago, during dinner with the late Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek, I asked him if he had the power to write one law that would get government out of our lives, what would that law be? Professor Hayek replied he’d write a law that read: Whatever Congress does for one American it must do for all Americans. He elaborated: If Congress makes payments to one American for not raising pigs, every American not raising pigs should also receive payments. Obviously, were there to be such a law, there would be reduced capacity for privilege-granting by Congress and less influence-peddling.

Whatever Congress does for one American it must do for all Americans: A simple, but powerful, policy spoken by one of the greatest economists. Now ponder how that would change Washington’s game of pork.

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Tom W
Tom W
18 years ago

Once FDR “legitimized” the (un-Constitutional) concept that one function of government was to take from one group of citizens and give to another (via an untenable reading of the Commerce Clause, courtesy of a Supreme Court made pliant under threat of being “packed”), the slow-death of “The United States of America” began.
It does not occur to most Americans, including “Republicans” and “conservatives,” to question the legitimacy of FDR’s trashing of the Constitution (and therefore the United States). In some ways, the U.S. is already lost.
After all, not even Republicans question the legitimacy of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, which, after all, are welfare programs and are nowhere provided for or even impliedly authorized under the U.S. Constitution.
And if one accepts the “legitimacy” of Social Security and the rest, then how can one (on an intellectually honest basis) oppose “progressive” income taxation, welfare (corporate or social)or any other form of government playing favorites or redistributing wealth?

Anchor Rising
18 years ago

Revisiting Why Current Lobbyist Reforms Will Fail

David Boaz, the Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, recently wrote these words about why lobbyist reform initiatives will fail: When you spread food out on a picnic table, you can expect ants. When you put $3 trillion on…

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