This is no big deal, sniffs David Gergen, himself a former White House staffer. “Money often flows to talented people in our society, and rather than being surprised by it or knocking it, I think we should celebrate when a president has the, I think, is smart enough to bring people along with him who’ve had some success in life,” he said on CNN.
But that ignores the point: What are these people being paid for? Money isn’t “flowing” to them -- companies are buying the privileged access their government experience brings. And as the government becomes more involved in every aspect of our lives, there’ll be ever more lobbying.
Consider Microsoft, the high-tech company that once focused only on making piles of money and creating untold numbers of jobs. Then, in the 1990s, the government sued it for anti-trust violations.
“There are good reasons for believing that Microsoft and Gates have been under legal attack simply because they have not been playing an old, well-worn political game expertly played by other major American firms,” writes economist Richard McKenzie in Trust on Trial. “That of coughing up contributions for a host of political campaigns.”
Before the government sued, Microsoft “was spending meager amounts maintaining an inconsequential lobbying office in the nation’s capital,” McKenzie writes. Sadly, it learned to pay the piper and now has a substantial lobbying operation. “Why? A convincing argument can be made that Microsoft is now trying to buy off the political muggers,” he writes. Sad, but true.
Here’s the point: We’re very much aware of the big money some private executives earn.
“Americans have expressed outrage as CEOs and other executives responsible for the financial crisis have pocketed millions of dollars from bonuses and golden parachutes,” the AFL-CIO writes on its Web site. The labor union has even assembled a Web site to track executive pay.
Fair enough. Undoubtedly some business executives (and some labor union leaders) are grossly overpaid.
But so are lobbyists. And at least corporate executives create jobs and wealth. Lobbyists just convince government to spend money here, not there. Or maybe both here and there. In any event, they’re just spending our tax money, not creating anything valuable in the process.
The way to clean up lobbying would be to return to a limited government, one that wasn’t using the tax code to determine social policy, wasn’t considering telling Americans where to live or what to eat or drive. Sadly, it doesn’t seem that’s the reform Obama has in mind.