Lobbying Congress: A Look at How Corporations Get Their Way

Will Beatrez `15

Ryan Palko `14

As a child it was a natural response to ask a certain parent for certain things. If I wanted to buy something, I asked my father. If I wanted a certain type of food around the house, I asked mother. When I wanted to go somewhere, I knew that the parents would have a little powwow to decide my fate.  Thus, I presented my idea of going out for the evening to the parent that would lobby my cause in the best way to the other one. This is an old ruse children use to coerce their parents into doing what they want, but they are not alone. Lobbyists in Washington D.C. use the same tactics. This field of lobbying is complicated and many Americans do not understand the various factors in the relationship between political and corporate entities. Most citizens are unaware of the political tactics that play out every day in the Capitol for businesses to get what they desire.

The reality is that a two-way relationship exists between corporations and our government. Corporations hire individuals to lobby for them in Congress. Hence, the people that are supporting the interests of the company are called lobbyists. These individuals live in Washington and are close friends with politicians. Their main goal is to forward legislation that is beneficial to their company. Lobbyists are close friends with members of Congress and develop a symbiotic relationship. The government passes favorable legislation for the corporations and these corporations chip money into the representative’s campaign fund. Since the striking down of Citizens United, any group can donate unlimited amounts of money to campaigns. This behavior has changed how legislation is passed and how lobbyists influence Congress.

Lobbying has evolved from the previous scenario into academic work. One way in which corporations influence legislation and government policy is through think-tanks. Research based companies are writing in academic journals and publishing research on certain topics, yet these organizations are funded by a group of people with a specific interest. For example, take Berman and Company, a restaurant corporation that does not want the minimum wage raised. This company directly funds, and essentially runs, the think-tank called Employment Policies Institute. This think-tank has consistently conducted research and produced evidence that shows the disadvantages of increasing the national minimum wage.  This “research” is conducted in order to protect Berman and Company’s revenue. Likewise, a similar think-tank which takes the liberal stance on the minimum wage issue would be the Economic Policy Institute. This think-tank is primarily funded by labor unions, and produces evidences in favor of raising the minimum wage. Although this strategy may seem underhanded, it is used all the time, and with varying levels of authenticity and deceit.

Corporations also influence congressmen through contributions to campaign funds and luxurious vacations. Despite legislation banning such gifts, lobbyists have found a way around it. Congressmen will hold fundraising events for their campaigns at popular vacation venues. Lobbyists will travel to these locations, and make large donations to the campaign funds. Of course, much of this goes to the vacation trip itself, but lobbyists are not just trying to bribe public officials. Rather, they are jumping at every opportunity to form a personal relationship with them. The goal in the mind of a lobbyist is to develop a close friendship with politicians. Thus, when they follow them on vacations it is an attempt to develop a positive, working relationship with him or her. These actions are not immoral, but are simply attempts to influence the political system to achieve what’s in their best interest.

These working relationships become quite complex, especially in today’s political realm. For example, Republicans have traditionally been more influenced by corporate power. However, the Republican Party has been having trouble keeping the trust of its lobbyists in the past year. Large corporations were slighted by the economic repercussions of the government shutdown, as well as by the failure to pass any major immigration reform legislation. Such legislation would increase the capabilities and accessibility of the labor force. Since the Republican Party has been blamed for these recent pitfalls, corporations are taking more care in deciding which Republican candidates to support for election. In many cases, corporations will even directly choose who they want to run for office.

Considering all these ways in which lawmakers are influenced by profit-seeking corporations, there is an unanswered question: how are our politicians supposed to remain unaffected by potentially conflicting interests? The answer is complicated. Although these luxurious vacations and campaign fund donations are a factor in the formation of legislation, lobbyists certainly do not have total control over the legislators. Because it is a two-way relationship, each side presents a sizable check to the other.  If lawmakers do not pass favorable legislation, corporations do not earn profits. If corporations do not lobby, lawmakers do not get reelected.

Sources:

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/13/276448190/a-closer-look-at-how-corporations-influence-congress

http://www.npr.org/2013/12/21/255961960/how-to-lobby-in-a-do-nothing-congress

Cover photo:

http://amnesty-volunteer.org/usa/stlouis/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/dreamstimefree_1938109.jpg

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