The Lobbyists are Coming

In a recent post on his indispensible blog, Bob Bauer poked a bit at Newsweek columnist Robert Samuelson, who had written that big government gives birth to lobbying.  A thrust of Samuelson’s column was that we should expect to see a lot more lobbying in the next few years, given Barack Obama’s announced goals to greatly expand the role of the government into our lives, and in particularly to greatly increase government spending, beginning with an enormous porkbarrell spending er, stimulus bill. 

Bauer makes a legit point that not only does big government create lobbyists, but that sometimes lobbyists create big government. Bauer goes on to note that an administration that favors "ambitious goals" and "strong government" must be especially attentive to appropriate regulation of lobbyists, including adequate disclosure and avoidance of conflicts of interest. 

But we should not let Mr. Bauer’s legit point about particular lobbyists blind us to the bigger picture.  

We once had a limited government of enumerated powers, that pretty much left Americans alone.  Just 80 years ago, no one would have lobbied for many of the earmarks, predatory regulation, and trade restrictions that lobbyists now routinely pursue, because no one would have thought the federal government had such power.  It was only with the judicial erosion of the commerce clause, aggrandizement of the spending clause, and the disastrous decision in U.S. v. Carolene Products, in which the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to rent-seeking lobbyists by announcing that henceforth economic liberties would be treated as a second class rights under the Constitution, that lobbying for bigger government began to make sense.  Yes, it is true: big government creates a demand for lobbying, just as the fact that football defensive units sometimes score points doesn’t mean that most points aren’t scored by offensive units. 

We don’t want to sound too churlish here, especially as Mr. Bauer’s points, as we are understand them, are generally one with which we agree: 1) lobbying is generally a valuable and constitutionally protected activity; and 2) efforts to assure that government operates above board and is generally ethical and transparent are valuable.  But let’s not kid ourselves – in the next 4 or 8 years we should expect a massive increase in lobbying, indeed an increase that has already begun as the Bush Administration paves the way for Obama with an orgy of spending and nationalization of whole industries.  In such an environment, it will be increasingly difficult for the moderate, responsible approach Bauer takes to lobbying regulation to hold sway against the demogogues and alarmists. 

The rush of lobbying has already begun.  We don’t mean to say that one cannot embrace President-elect Obama’s (or President Bush’s) big government spending plans, or that we must embrace a more laissez-faire approach to economic issues.  But we must recognize that one cost of the Bush/Obama approach is that the influence seekers will line up to seek influence. 

The lobbyists are coming – big time.