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Crowdsourcing Transparency
July 14, 2009 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Can You Spot a Lobbyist? Who made up the bulk of the audience when Congress began work on health care reform legislation? Lobbyists, according to this photo ID-crowdsourcing project, part of Dollar Politics, a new NPR investigative series. Bill Moyers shines some sunlight too, with Some Choice Words for 'The Select Few.'
posted by Miko (33 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait, Rahm Emanuel is falling victim to the machine?

OH NO HE DIDN'T
posted by kldickson at 10:31 AM on July 14, 2009


Bill Moyers came to Washington to kick ass and chew gum, and he's all out of gum.
posted by exogenous at 10:32 AM on July 14, 2009 [13 favorites]


Now remember everyone: lobbyists we agree with = good; lobbyists we don't agree with = bad.

Also, none of us are part of the problem.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:32 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


lobbyists we agree with = good; lobbyists we don't agree with = bad.

I generally agree with this sentiment, but that isn't an argument against transparency nor against controlling lobbying activity. The more we know who represents what and what they want, and the more parameters we place on their operations, the better off we all are.
posted by Miko at 10:36 AM on July 14, 2009


Here's an idea, not that the MSM would ever go along with it:

Every time a legislator gets gets head time on CSPAN or any news program to discuss their "issue of the day", the network displays, below their name and affiliation, the amount of money they've received from organizations benefitting from the legislator's "opinion".

It's public information, right?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:41 AM on July 14, 2009 [9 favorites]


the amount of money they've received from organizations benefitting from the legislator's "opinion".

Answering the question of who benefits from what in what way currently costs billions in attorneys' fees. Adding to that current tally the cost of recalculating it for instant news punditry would be wasteful, I think, given the complexity of the question.
posted by The World Famous at 10:45 AM on July 14, 2009


Now remember everyone: lobbyists we agree with = good; lobbyists we don't agree with = bad. Also, none of us are part of the problem.

Actually, it's more like "us knowing what the hell the lobbyists are doing so we can finally BE part of the process = good, lobbyists keeping things hidden from us so we can't take part = bad".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:45 AM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


i've said it before and i'll say it again...there's no way IN HELL corporations should be given the same rights as legal persons. the power and wealth that they enjoy as a result of their much greater access to resourses is the greatest tragedy of modern times.
and i'll say this too: all lobbyists=bad. like advertising (brainwashing), this is NOT FREE SPEECH and deserves NO PROTECTION. every word they utter is paid for. sure, i'd have plenty of time to go chat with my senator if someone was paying $25,000 an afternoon for me to do it. the injustice of it is galling.

solutions?

*wraps stick with oily rags in case your solution sucks*
posted by sexyrobot at 10:58 AM on July 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Now remember everyone: lobbyists we agree with = good; lobbyists we don't agree with = bad.

Well, for starters "lobbyists we agree with" can't make up a very significant position. I realize there are some lobbyists who work for non profit organizations like the ACLU (hell there are even paid lobbyists working for NORML). But the vast majority are those working for private companies to twist federal law to suit them, at the expense of average Americans. When it comes to the health care debate, this takes on a grotesque dimension. I mean these people are literally working to ensure that American citizens suffer in pain, sickness, disability and death in order to continue making profit. How is that not bad?

And more to the point, the opponents here are the lobbyists. They are the ones who are working to fight off health care reform. They, as a class, should be thought of the same way we think of republicans. Sure, there are a few republicans who are not horrible, but by and large, they are. The truth is, Lobbyists and "the Washington elite" form a power center, a lot like another party, that needs to be fought just as republicans need to be fought.

Arguing that it's somehow inconsistent to be opposed to some lobbyists and not other lobbyists is like claiming it's inconsistent to support some politicians and not other politicians because they are all just politicians even if their policy goals are completely opposite.
posted by delmoi at 10:59 AM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


> Every time a legislator gets gets head time on CSPAN or any news program to discuss their "issue of the day", the network displays, below their name and affiliation, the amount of money they've received from organizations benefitting from the legislator's "opinion".


Who watches CSPAN? (I don't have cable.) Make them wear NASCAR-style jumpsuits, with proportionately large patches from their sponsors. All the time.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:02 AM on July 14, 2009 [24 favorites]


Well, for starters "lobbyists we agree with" can't make up a very significant position.

I wouldn't minimize it. Most nonprofit sectors - everything from environmental groups to reproductive rights, disease prevention and education groups, global aid charities, sustainable food and farming, education, you name it - employ lobbying as a means of influencing legislation that affects their causes.

You're right that few such groups approach the influence of the corporate sector. But they're lobbying because they have to, as well - if they didn't do this, they'd not only miss opportunities to educate legislators and promote the cause, but also be leaving the field to purely business interests.
posted by Miko at 11:09 AM on July 14, 2009


the opponents here are the lobbyists

Lobbyists get paid. I don't think the "opponents" here are being paid to post here, if that's what you are suggesting.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:12 AM on July 14, 2009


I know a model UN conference doesn't qualify as political experience but quiet unofficial meetings are the only way it's possible to actually get anything done in politics. I have had this verified by real politicians and they say it still holds true in everything from municipal to federal to international politics. It's impossible to get anything done in an official meeting because it's almost impossible to communicate properly in a moderated venue. Often politicians will totally fail to understand what the guest speaker is trying to tell them unless it is explained to them outside the official meeting.

This isn't corruption. This is politics at it's very core. It's the only way the world can function.

That said, I'm sure if I lived in the US I'd really like to see fewer lobbyists.
posted by Pseudology at 11:45 AM on July 14, 2009


Please make a distinction between 'lobbyist' and 'corporate lobbyist'.
posted by zennie at 11:58 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


>Often politicians will totally fail to understand what the guest speaker is trying to tell them unless it is explained to them outside the official meeting.

I am unsurprised. Sadly.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:03 PM on July 14, 2009


Zennie, there are lobbyists from noncorporate interest groups - environmental groups, for one. I suspect they're outnumbered and financially outgunned by the corporate lobbyists, but they do exist.
posted by echo target at 12:35 PM on July 14, 2009


I believe it was founding daddy Madison who early (even before I went to school) recognized the power special interests would have in a democracy. But he assumed that even greater damage would be done in putting a firewall in place to keep them out of the process of democracy. He may well have been wrong.

I think I am right in saying that a person who has served from Congress can become a lobbyist and has the right to be on the floor of Congress when a bill is being debated and voted upon. That means: former congress people are prime folks to pick up for lobby groups.

Why not a simple law: if you have served in congress you can not become a lobbyist for 5 years after leaving office. Or: no lobbyists have the right to be on the floor--which would make many of these people not so desireable.
posted by Postroad at 12:59 PM on July 14, 2009


Some of those people are foyerists.
posted by srboisvert at 1:10 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Please make a distinction between 'lobbyist' and 'corporate lobbyist'.

This is a false dichotomy.

For example, Political Action Committees (PACs) and unions rake in and spend millions of dollars in lobbying efforts. They are not corporations, nor are they beholden to the interests of a specific industry. They work to lobby politicians, alter public opinion through advertising, grassroots efforts and strategic public relations campaigns, and ultimately corrupt the political process -- all in the name of providing a voice for supposedly underrepresented groups.

The larger interest groups are not outgunned by corporations. They may wield tremendous influence over a particular politician based on factors that have nothing to do with bribes, gifts or corporate "values", but rather are important to his specific constituents.
posted by zarq at 1:15 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wish I could buy one of them there lobbyists and really make my vote count with dollars.
posted by crapmatic at 1:29 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


and i'll say this too: all lobbyists=bad. like advertising (brainwashing), this is NOT FREE SPEECH and deserves NO PROTECTION.

I've always wondered how a modern SCOTUS would address this, if the issue were again raised at a Federal level. It seems only logical that commercial speech (profit-motivated communications) should only be entitled to very limited constitutional protections. After all, we do have a wide variety of laws that abridge commercial speech in order to make sure that corporations can't make unfounded claims, misleading and/or endangering the public.

Would the current SCOTUS overturn the previous ruling that a corporation should be considered a "person" for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment? I'd truly love to see them take a case that addressed this.
posted by zarq at 1:31 PM on July 14, 2009


For example, Political Action Committees (PACs) and unions rake in and spend millions of dollars in lobbying efforts. They are not corporations, nor are they beholden to the interests of a specific industry.

OK, maybe I should have said 'financial interest lobbyists' instead of 'corporate lobbyists.'

Don't lump in the unpaid or unorganized lobbyists. That's all I'm saying.
posted by zennie at 1:37 PM on July 14, 2009


Well, for starters "lobbyists we agree with" can't make up a very significant position.

In this case, "lobbyists we agree with" are lobbyists for Ford, GM, IBM, Citibank, Wachovia, Boeing, Lockheed... any big firm that faces rising health insurance costs.

And I don't see why this is getting brought up for this particular issue... lobbyists (or their researchers, or representatives from other established interest groups) will be a significant portion of the audience at any public hearing or committee meeting, back probably well into the nineteenth century. This is one of the classic blowbacks of legislative reform -- "sunlight" rules mostly just make it easier for established interest groups to enforce any deals they might have cut.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:38 PM on July 14, 2009


Who made up the bulk of the audience when Congress began work on health care reform legislation? Lobbyists, according to this photo ID-crowdsourcing project...

Relatively few people are identified in the photo compared with the number of people who are there. So if you want this statement to be accurate, you should say "Who made up a handful of people..."
posted by ekroh at 1:38 PM on July 14, 2009


Don't lump in the unpaid or unorganized lobbyists.

Who would unpaid or unorganized lobbyists be? Citizens? Nonprofit lobbyists are paid and organized.

if you want this statement to be accurate, you should say "Who made up a handful of people..."

Well, the statement was actually based on the accompanying article, which said that "many" of the people in the room were associated with a lobby:
"The people that you see are everything from office interns that are collecting testimony to people who've been lobbying for a long time," said Bill Vaughan, a health care lobbyist for Consumers Union, the nonprofit that publishes Consumer Reports magazine.

"[They] have friendships with various members of Congress or staff and hope to be seen. It's a reminder that their interests are at play," Vaughan said.
"The bulk" may be incorrect, but perhaps this project will better quantify how many "many" is.
posted by Miko at 1:55 PM on July 14, 2009


“Wait, Rahm Emanuel is falling victim to the machine?
OH NO HE DIDN'T”
Yeah, Obama hasn’t been very responsive. Took him until the day after he got into office to lay down two executive orders and issue presidential memoranda regarding lobbyist gift bans and lobbyists entering the government, etc.
His administration didn’t address the limits on special interest influence until a whole five months after he got into office. Pfft.

Y’know - yeah, a lot of this does get done by a select few who represent small groups of people who represent large groups of people.
But you need transparency. For the most part, yeah, I’m with y’all on the collusion between corporations and government. They have waaay more lobbying power than they should have.

I think from the politician side, the hubris Emanuel shows – and he is a ball busting prick whether he’s doing the right thing or not, and he’s one of those type of guys who’s usually right, which is even more galling – is indicative of most of the problem with this.

Which reminds me of the guy building the toaster from scratch. There’s a lot taken for granted. And it is, in the purest sense of the word, hubris to take credit for ‘getting it done’ when you’re the top guy at the toaster factory who organizes and plans, maybe even engineers and designs and ‘gets it done.’ Looks like a lot of work, sure. And it is. But plenty of folks there mining the raw material, putting the thing together, following a plan – just plain doing their jobs who get it done as well.

Without that infrastructure of support – nothing gets done. And hell, there’s no reason to do it because there’s no damn need.
But this is what rankles when people gripe about Obama changing everything. These are some big sharks in the water with a lot of power and money and there are a lot of people who will believe what they’re told – especially by someone driving a nicer car than theirs. And they’ll put their weight into whatever cause too.So it’s a bitch of a fight.

But hell, why do you think Bush got certain things done so easily? He went with the flow. Special interests. Corporations. Anyone but the will of the people – which is easy to ignore because they only vote for you once every four years and almost half of them are automatically on your side because of the color you represent.

So this is the government’s job. As far as I’m concerned the only job it’s good for – fighting the moneyed interests and powerful minorities for civil rights and so forth.
Lobbying itself? Double edged sword really. I prefer tools. Not as fast moving or decisive, but less likely to slip out of your hand and cut you.

But in any case, more transparency would be a good thing. I don’t much care what someone else does with their money, unless it comes to how it influences my money. Especially the money forced out of my pocket by the government. If I'm going to pay taxes, I want to know where every penny goes and what people are saying about where they want it to go. It's not fair otherwise.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:10 PM on July 14, 2009


By the way Miko, thank you for posting this. I'm always thrilled to see people making concerted efforts to increase transparency in this area.
posted by zarq at 2:15 PM on July 14, 2009


OK, maybe I should have said 'financial interest lobbyists' instead of 'corporate lobbyists.'

Don't lump in the unpaid or unorganized lobbyists. That's all I'm saying.


I understand what you're saying, and may even agree with you. ;)

However, I wonder what the percentage of "unpaid or unorganized" lobbyists actually is. I suspect that volunteer citizen lobbyists, who don't belong to a larger association are probably few and far between.

A great example of this would be the PIRGs, in which 24 state offices and one federal office organize a network that is mostly dedicated volunteers.
posted by zarq at 2:26 PM on July 14, 2009


If you squint, you can barely see their little devil horns.
posted by LakesideOrion at 2:29 PM on July 14, 2009


Who would unpaid or unorganized lobbyists be? Citizens? Nonprofit lobbyists are paid and organized.

Yes, private citizens, sure. But there are also plenty of unpaid lobbyists, they're just not full-time.
Unlike the other kind, they aren't in a directory or on a payroll, so it's hard to judge how many there are. From my own long experience in the DC area, though, I know only 10 or so professional lobbyists but scores of voluntary ones.
posted by zennie at 3:02 PM on July 14, 2009


Some of those people are foyerists.

True.
posted by vicx at 5:26 PM on July 14, 2009


A lot of people don't want transparency. By which I mean they don't want to spend the time working through the fine print of a particular bill, or numerous earth-shatteringly dull discussions.

Like it or not, that's why lobbyists, and corporate lobbyists in particular rule the roost. If you have a strong imperative to care and the resources to make your voice heard, you win the game.

I don't like the influence of lobbyists as much as the next person, but I'll be damned if I care enough about it to spend my own time organising, agitating, participating, listening, refining and proactively briefing so that my own agenda gets followed.

I'm not having a pop at teh joos, but if you read "The Israel Lobby", for example, and see how various lobbies get to influence the agenda, the underlying story is supreme organisation and clarity of purpose - to the extent that whole sections of bills get written by the lobbyists themselves - exactly the things disparate citizens tend to be weak on.

In that respect, it has a direct parallel with journalism, whereby the closer you can render your PR to a form in which a journalist can almost take it wholesale and feed it to the machine, the better you control the news agenda.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:30 AM on July 15, 2009


Fans of transparency and crowdsourcing might appreciate the recently released Sunlight Foundation projects Congrelate and TransparencyCorps. The latter is in fact a platform designed for "Crowdsourcing Transparency." (built by Sunlight Labs)

With regard to Lobbyists, here are some recent network graphs illustrating the connections between former staff members who have since gone on to become lobbyists (in this case we are showing their health / insurance sector clientele).
-The Max Baucus Health Care Lobbyist Complex
-Senate Finance Committee Health Care Influence Cluster: The Democrats, The Republicans

There's also Party Time if you're curious who your congressional representatives are partying with every day.
posted by sunlightfoundation at 5:09 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


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