Lobbying in U.S. Politics


Jack Abramoff

Tommy Frei

In January 2006, Jack Abramoff was sentenced to six years in prison for conspiracy to bribe public officials, tax evasion, and other crimes. Subsequently, Abramoff became a prime example of everything wrong with big money in politics. A few weeks ago, I saw a video on CNBC about “How Lobbying Became A $3.5 Billion Industry” in the U.S. I was interested in learning more about the topic and how deeply this practice is ingrained in our government today.

What is the point of lobbying? The main reason people hire lobbyists is to get the government to either stop doing something or to get the government to do something that would benefit them. This could be to keep the government from harming your business. For instance, Big Tech spent nearly half a billion on lobbying over the past decade according to The Washington Post. Foreign powers also try to influence our politicians to get something from Capitol Hill. They might want lobbyists to push their agenda or prevent the U.S. from interfering with their economies. Unions, corporations, and individuals might want to protect their interests from the government. They could also lobby for an advantage over competitors. For instance, Amazon was lobbying pushing for a higher minimum wage representing workers’ rights. They are increasingly automating their easier jobs, however, and a higher minimum wage hurts competitors who still rely on lower-skilled employees.

Top lobbying companies charge around $50,000 per month. That’s a lot of money. Jack Abramoff was even reported to be charging $180,000 per month in his prime. For this amount of money, what exactly do they do? Lobbyists sell ideas. Contrary to popular beliefs, lobbyists don’t just barge into a room and pull out a box of money to bribe politicians. Lobbying requires a more subtle psychological approach. Instead of yelling at politicians to get what they want, lobbyists form bonds with the politicians and try to make subtle trades for influence. As Jack Abramoff said, “Normally, there’s never a conversation like that. There’s I’m your friend, you’re my friend, what do you need? You know, well, I’m trying to raise a million dollars to make sure I get re-elected. OK, I’ll take care of $300,000, I’ll throw a fundraiser, don’t worry about it. OK, great, Jack, what do you need? Well, I’ve got clients that have got these interests. Oh, I think I can be helpful on that.” That’s the discussion. 

While there is a huge problem with corrupt lobbyists and special interest groups influencing politicians, are they the real issue? The thing that enables big companies to give these lobbyists power and money is the power that politicians offer, so is it a problem with our politicians? Who do you think is more immoral, the business that pays the lobbyists, the lobbyists themselves, or the politicians?