WASHINGTON -- Everyone knows the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. How many remember that, in addition, the First Amendment protects a fifth freedom -- to lobby?
Of course it doesn't use the word lobby. It calls it the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Lobbyists are people hired to do that for you, so that you can actually stay home with the kids and remain gainfully employed rather than spend your life in the corridors of Washington.
To hear the candidates in this presidential campaign, you'd think lobbying is just one notch below waterboarding, a black art practiced by the great malefactors of wealth to keep the middle class in a vise and loose upon the nation every manner of scourge: oil dependency, greenhouse gases, unpayable mortgages and those tiny entrees you get at French restaurants.
Lobbying is constitutionally protected, but that doesn't mean we have to like it all. Let's agree to frown upon bad lobbying, such as getting a tax break for a particular industry. Let's agree to welcome good lobbying -- the actual redress of a legitimate grievance -- such as protecting your home from being turned to dust to make way for some urban development project.
There is a defense of even bad lobbying. It goes like this: You wouldn't need to be seeking advantage if the federal government had not appropriated for itself in the 20th century all kinds of powers, regulations, intrusions and manipulations (often through the tax code) that had never been presumed in the 19th century and certainly never imagined by the Founders. What appears to be rent-seeking is thus redress of a larger grievance -- insufferable government meddling in what had traditionally been considered an area of free enterprise.
Good lobbying, on the other hand, requires no such larger contextual explanation. It is a cherished First Amendment right -- necessary, like the others, to protect a free people against overbearing and potentially tyrannical government.
What would be an example of petitioning the government for a redress of a legitimate grievance? Let's say you're a media company wishing to acquire a television station in Pittsburgh. Because of the huge federal regulatory structure, you require the approval of a government agency. In this case it's called the Federal Communications Commission.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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