, Salem, MA


March 11, 2014

Watson: Big money can buy a democracy


And take note, both Democratic and Republican ex-pols participate equally. For example, ex-Democratic senator Tom Daschle works for DLA Piper, a prominent lobbying firm that represents banking, finance, real estate, and energy interests.

Ex-Republican governor Tim Pawlenty heads the Financial Services Roundtable, a trade group that lobbies for the world’s largest financial companies. Pawlenty influences banking regulations for the likes of Barclays, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan and Fidelity.

Onetime Democratic senator John Breaux and Republican Trent Lott work for Patton Boggs, a firm that lobbies for the health, finance, transportation and defense industries.

Ex-Democratic senator Birch Bayh works for Venable LLP, a firm that advocates for the tobacco, automotive, pharmaceutical, and casino industries. Ex-Republican House member Bill Paxon works for Akin, Gump LLP, a firm that represents the finance, agricultural, insurance, and casino industries.

We could go on and on. Maybe you’re wondering if some rough balance of damage occurs. If both liberals and conservatives enjoy post-electoral careers in lobbying and influence-peddling, wouldn’t their efforts just maintain the approximate philosophical divisions now in the nation?

Well, no. Real damage occurs — real distortion of legislation — because professional lobbying firms and other special interests actually represent only distinct slices of the interests and citizens in the nation. Furthermore, among the interests that have a D.C. lobbying presence, their resources and clout vary tremendously.

Who often gets left out of lobbying efforts is the ordinary citizen. And what gets left out frequently is moderation itself, or the common public interest. If legislation frequently represents a deal among special interests, so that each gets a pie slice, then the common good can be shortchanged. Every subsidy to a special interest, every sweetheart deal to an industry, every regulatory distortion, or every favor to a pol’s state, comes at a cost — in policy or dollars or damage — to the general public.

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