Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Edwards Campaign: Clinton is Wrong on Lobbyists

During the Slate/Yahoo/Huffington Post debate today, Hillary Clinton once more defended Washington lobbyists with what seems to be verging on pride in taking money from them.

Well, I take from executives or people that work for them, just like I do from every part of the economy. And you know, I think it's a little inauthentic for people to say don't take money from lobbyists, but it's OK to take it from their spouses, their children, their associates, and from people that work for the companies that employ them. That is, you know, to me, kind of an artificial distinction.

It's not an "artificial distinction" to the Edwards campaign.

John Edwards' Deputy Campaign Manager Jonathan Prince today issued a strongly worded response to Clinton's assertions that there is nothing wrong with taking money from lobbyists.

"During the Slate/Yahoo/Huffington Post debate, which aired online today, Senator Clinton said the difference between lobbyists and regular Americans is an 'artificial distinction.' She is wrong. These lobbyists are legally required to register with the government to influence legislation. And, more than most, Senator Clinton should know that Washington is awash with campaign money from these lobbyists. It is wrong and it has to stop.

"Sometimes good people have been in Washington so long that they can't see what every American sees – the system in Washington has become corroded and corrupted and is failing the American people. By defending a broken system and lobbyists, Senator Clinton is defending the status quo and, knowingly or not, protecting those that have rigged the game.

"John Edwards believes it's time to end the game and be honest with the American people. It's time for us to have the strength to say no to Washington lobbyists' money so we can deliver the real change America deserves. That's why, once again, John Edwards renews his challenge to Senator Clinton to join with him in demanding the Democratic Party lead the way to real reform by refusing, as a party, to take campaign contributions from Washington lobbyists.

"In fact, for further explanation of the difference between lobbyists and regular Americans, see the DC Circuit decision on the Rumely Case* that said the following about lobbying: '...It is said that lobbying itself is an evil and a danger. We agree that lobbying by personal contact may be an evil and a potential danger to the best in legislative process. It is said that indirect lobbying by the pressure of public opinion on the Congress is an evil and danger. That is not an evil; that is a good, the healthy essence of the democratic process...'"

* Rumely v. United States, 197 F.2d 166 (D.C. Cir. 1952)

I agree with Jonathan Prince. For Clinton to say that lobbyists making legal bribes to politicians is essentially the same as citizens making political donations is patently absurd. Lobbyists are paid to represent certain interests in Washington, usually business interests, and since that is their job, they work on it single-mindedly and all the time. As Jonathan Prince points out, they also have to register with the government to do so, because they do have such extraordinary influence.

You and I can at best write letters to our representatives in Congress, or call them, once in a while in our busy lives. When we make political donations, it is not usually with the singular intent of influencing a politician on one issue, but more often just with the goal in mind of electing someone that at least sort of represents our many interests. Even if we work for a company that may wish to influence policy in a certain way, that does not necessarily mean that we agree with the interests of our company. Many of us don't even like our jobs, if we're lucky enough to have them.

To say that lobbyists are more effective than the average citizen at getting their way is a gross understatement. That is why John Edwards has repeatedly called for an end to the lobbyist game in Washington and a return of the government to the people.

Now, is there a problem with our current campaign finance system, where wealthy people can give $4600 to a candidate without batting an eye, while most people can barely afford to give a few bucks? Of course there is! That is why Edwards has also repeatedly called for public campaign financing. But, until we elect enough politicians like John Edwards that want to change the system, we have to live within the system we've got. If enough Washington politicians take the Edwards challenge and reject money from lobbyists, that would be a big step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, if you agree with Edwards that Washington is broken, help him compete by donating here.

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