Lee Hamilton: Lobbyists the New Fourth Branch of Government

by PSA Staff | November 19th, 2014 | |Subscribe

PSA Board of Directors Member and current director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, Lee Hamilton, discusses the influence of lobbying groups in American politics. The Rock River Times Op-Ed

The Power of Lobbyists 

Because of its power to influence public affairs, the press has long been known as “the Fourth Estate.” But I think the media may have been displaced. These days, it’s lobbyists who seem to carry the most clout in Washington.

Here’s a case in point. When Congress closed at the beginning of August for its end-of-summer recess, it faced wide-scale derision for having accomplished next to nothing during the year. In fact, the Pew Center ranked the session as the least productive in two decades.

But it wasn’t entirely unproductive. Just before they left town, members of Congress did manage to get three things done: they passed a Veterans Administration reform package; they increased aid to Israel; and they kept highway construction projects around the country from losing funding.

Why did these three measures find success when so many others did not? There’s a two-word answer: powerful lobbyists. Veterans, supporters of Israel, and the combined weight of highway construction interests and state and local governments are among the most influential forces in Washington.

Last year, some 12,000 active lobbyists spent $3.24 billion on trying to influence the federal government, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. I don’t know of any other country where lobbyists have those kinds of numbers, spend that kind of money, or get the kinds of results they’re able to achieve here — in Congress, in the executive branch and, increasingly, in statehouses around the country.

But even among all those lobbyists, some stand out for their effectiveness. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), veterans’ groups, the AARP: all are very good at obtaining laws and policies in their interests and blocking laws and policies they consider harmful.

I don’t mean by this that they’re all-powerful. They don’t win every battle. But they do win most of them.

How do they do this? To start, lawmakers have to get elected. Good lobbyists don’t just provide large amounts of money for campaigns, they provide early money and expert help. They donate, they introduce you to other donors, and they help you establish connections that can help during your campaign and later on. Early money in politics is better than late money. Candidates remember that sort of thing. They also remember that if you oppose these organizations’ views, they’ll come at you hard.

Good lobbyists and their organizations also provide information in easily digestible form. They’ll assign particular staffers to develop relationships with members of Congress — people who can write a speech or testimony or legislative language quickly. They and their colleagues are sophisticated observers of public affairs who know whether, when, and how to approach government policy makers, along with the particular policy maker who can help them best.

They are deeply knowledgeable about the process of government and have a wide network of friends on Capitol Hill, in the agencies, and in members’ districts — often, their most effective voices aren’t Washington lobbyists, but the grassroots networks they’ve built back home. They understand that at heart, lobbying is about establishing relationships long before any particular issue affecting them comes up, so that when they go to talk about a bill, they’re going in to see a friend.

They build relationships in several ways. There are all kinds of approaches to members — the annual policy conferences to which members of Congress flock, the sponsored trips and meetings in out-of-the-way resorts where a lobbyist can get a few days of a member’s undivided attention. But the best lobbyists are also friendly, approachable people who know how to talk to members and policy-makers of both parties.

The best lobbying groups also have a lot of money and resources not just to woo policy makers, but to shape public discourse. They make good information available to their advocates, and make sure that the advocates who speak for them on television, online, and in newspapers are well informed. They know that part of the battle is to shape public dialogue.

The best lobbyists are masters at making the system work for them. My guess is that their influence over policy surpasses the media’s clout, and they have now become the fourth branch of government.

Lee Hamilton was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Tara Sonenshine: A Fulbright Is Not a Political Football

by PSA Staff | October 1st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine sits on the Partnership for a Secure America’s Board of Advisors. She is a former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and currently teaches at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

A Fulbright is Not a Political Football

Every now and then Congress shows wisdom as in the recent decision by the House and Senate to reject a request from the Obama administration to cut funding for the famous Fulbright program from $237 to $204 million.

What’s a Fulbright and why should you care?

The Fulbright is the most competitive and highly sought academic fellowship in the world. Think of it as trade — the trading of great minds in the stead of peace.

The Fulbright premise is tried and true — built on a simple, highly effective concept of international exchanges among scholars to foster better understanding and relations among nations. The Fulbright program provides small grants to help American students and teachers learn and work abroad and foreign students and scholars to visit the United States. As Senator J. William Fulbright, the program’s founder, said in 1945, “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion… increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and fellowship.”

With over 355,000 alumni from over 155 countries, the Fulbright Program is important, symbolically and substantively for the United States at a time when we are trying to win more friends and fight more enemies. The Fulbright program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 US scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. In this exchange of knowledge comes the chance to build stronger civil societies based on common values and interests.

So why would anyone want to cut a program that builds and maintains robust educational, scientific, economic, and political partnerships; knowledge transfer; and competition in the global marketplace?

Well, in a world of economic choices there is always a temptation to save “cents” at the expense of “sense.” Mistakenly, some in the government thought of shifting resources from in-depth exchange programs like Fulbright — which last a full year and extend around the globe — to shorter programs targeted on regions like Africa or Asia. Taking an axe to a government program might sound appealing unless you know the facts:

Firstly, the Fulbright is not exclusively a U.S. government program. It uses cost-sharing and partnership agreements with other countries — some of which are America’s long-standing friends and most important allies in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, and in the Western Hemisphere. In many of the countries engaged in these exchanges, Fulbright Commissions administer the program. Their budgets come from multiple sources — the U.S. Department of State and other governments as well as private charitable donations. In many countries with Fulbright commissions, partner countries spend more funding Fulbright opportunities for U.S. students and scholars to go abroad and more for their own students and scholars to go to the United States than the U.S. government does. We should not undermine their confidence in the U.S. commitment to the program with $ 30 million cut that would jeopardize those revenue flows.

Geography matters. It is also important to keep the reach of Fulbright educational exchanges broad, not narrow. Shifting the diplomatic lens away from Europe, for example, during a period when we are building coalitions of the willing to fight ISIS, deal with the instability in Ukraine, and counter transnational threats makes no sense. This is a time when we need transatlantic cooperation through dialogue and exchange.

The Fulbright program yields some of the greatest peace dividends. Among its alumni are 29 former heads of state or government, 53 Nobel Prize winners, and 80 Pulitzer Prize winners from all regions of the world. Those who invest in the Fulbright program invest a full year because learning about another country takes time. Shorter programs that offer less substantive immersion for foreigners do not necessarily create lasting change. Cutting corners on education never quite works.

Lastly, there is an American economic imperative to invest in international education including bringing scholars from the around the world to the U.S. According to the Association of International Educators, international students contribute over $24 billion to the U.S. economy each year, and the Fulbright Program is one of the most respected programs among international educators in the United States and abroad.

The Fulbright program must stay fully funded. Stay tuned for more budget action as Congress makes final decisions on the FY15 appropriations bills although the way things are going, there may not be a final budget until the end of the year. In the meantime, America has to do it work to strengthen ties with other nations and promote international cooperation. Fulbright is one small way to maintain the world’s largest multilateral investment in public diplomacy.

Lee Hamilton: Are we doomed to polarization?

by PSA Staff | July 14th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton: Are we doomed to polarization?

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. He is also Co-Chair of  PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Rock River Times.

We Americans are trapped in a political dilemma. We all like representative democracy, but we don’t much like the way it’s performing.

The reason for this dissatisfaction is clear. Polls in recent years detail a polarized nation, divided both ideologically and politically. This is, as the Pew Research Center put it recently, “a defining feature of politics today.” In the public’s eye, Washington gets most of the blame for this. (more…)

Lee Hamilton: Why I still have faith in Congress

by PSA Staff | June 11th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. Lee Hamilton is also the Co-Chair of PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Rock River Times

Lee Hamilton: Why I still have faith in Congress

It’s depressing to read poll after poll highlighting Americans’ utter disdain for Congress. But it’s my encounters with ordinary citizens at public meetings or in casual conversation that really bring me up short. In angry diatribes or in resigned comments, people make clear their dwindling confidence in both politicians and the institution itself.

With all Congress’s imperfections — its partisanship, brinksmanship and exasperating inability to legislate — it’s not hard to understand this loss of faith. Yet, as people vent their frustration, I hear something else as well. It is a search for hope. They ask, almost desperately sometimes, about grounds for renewed hope in our system. Here’s why I’m confident we can do better.

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Take Politics Out of Diplomacy

by PSA Staff | February 28th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Thomas Pickering is a retired ambassador and former Under Secretary of State. He is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. This article was co-authored by Nicholas Kralev. The article originally appeared in USA Today

Take Politics Out of Diplomacy

Diplomacy is easy and anyone can do it. This is the message U.S. presidents of both parties have been sending the American people and the world for decades. They have done so not verbally, but through their actions, giving away ambassadorial posts as rewards to unqualified people only because they were top fundraisers during the presidents’ election campaigns.

As old as that issue is, it has received renewed and greater attention recently, following last month’s embarrassing Senate confirmation hearing of President Obama’s nominees as ambassadors to Norway and Hungary. Sen. John McCain’s public shaming of those nominees, hotel magnate George Tsunis and soap opera producer Colleen Bell, for not knowing basic facts about the country where they are supposed to serve or about U.S. interests in that country, has sparked important media commentary.

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Lee Hamilton on Congress: An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

by PSA Staff | February 24th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is a member of PSA’s Advisory Board and the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article was originally published on Glen Rose Current.

An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

In his State of the Union speech to Congress last month, President Obama drew widespread attention for pledging to use his executive authority to advance his priorities. He insisted he intends to act with or without Congress, and listed well over a dozen actions he plans to take by executive order.

“Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families,” he said, “that’s what I’m going to do.”

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Why 9/11 Can Happen Again

by PSA Staff | February 21st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Gary Hart is a lawyer and former senator from Colorado. He currently serves on PSA’s Advisory Board. Norman Augustine co-authored the article. This article was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

Why 9/11 Can Happen Again

In February 2001, a bipartisan federal commission on which we served warned that terrorists would acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption. “Attacks against American citizens on American soil, possibly causing heavy casualties, are likely over the next quarter-century,” the Hart-Rudman Commission said. “In the face of this threat, our nation has no coherent or integrated governmental structures.” We added: “Congress should rationalize its current committee structure so that it best serves U.S. national security objectives.”

We identified 50 ways to improve national security, none of which was implemented before 9/11. One recommendation — to create a single agency to deal with homeland security — was not acted on until a year and a half after those tragic attacks.

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Hold the Congratulations for Congress

by PSA Staff | January 24th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is co-chair of PSA’s Advisory Board and Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article was originally posted in the Union-Bulletin.

Column: Hold the Congratulations for Congress

Now that Congress has its immense, $1.1 trillion bipartisan funding bill in hand, Capitol Hill is breathing easier. They ended the specter of a government shutdown for the moment, and funded the federal budget for most of the year. The media has been commending Congress for finally doing its job.

This praise works only in the context of recent history, however. The bill that congressional leaders produced is hardly a triumph. Instead, it’s another example of Congress’s stubborn determination to deal itself out of the budgeting process. Let me explain.

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The Need for Bipartisanship on U.S.-Burma Policy

by PSA Staff | November 1st, 2013 | |Subscribe

Ryan McClure is an attorney, intern at Partnership for a Secure America, and foreign policy blogger focusing on U.S. foreign policy in East Asia.  He can be followed on Twitter @The BambooC.

The Need for Bipartisanship on U.S.-Burma Policy

The United States’ relationship with Burma has greatly changed in a brief period of time.  Just three years ago, Burma was a pariah state subject to severe American sanctions.  Today, sanctions have been lessened and the Burmese president is welcomed at the White House.  The reason for these changes is Burma’s quasi-military government’s decision to carry out political reform toward a more democratic system.  However, political oppression and human rights violations continue.

The Obama Administration, while aware of these abuses, persists in rewarding the Burmese government for geo-strategic reasons.  Because of this, Congress must press the Administration to institute a more deliberate policy that rewards Burma with economic and diplomatic engagement only when concrete, sustained benchmarks have been met.   (more…)

IN WASHINGTON, IDEOLOGY NEED NOT REIGN SUPREME

by PSA Staff | September 20th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He is a member of the PSA Advisory Board.  He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article originally appeared in The Ceres Courier.

IN WASHINGTON, IDEOLOGY NEED NOT REIGN SUPREME

As I speak to people about the Congress, one question arises more than any other: Why is Congress gridlocked? People are perplexed and disappointed with its performance, and are searching hard for an answer.

The roots of Congress’s dysfunction are complex. But the fundamental reason is that real differences in ideology and principles about both government and governance exist among the voters. At heart, the reason it’s become so hard for Washington to act is that the two parties are being driven by fundamentally incompatible views.

Conservatives place a heavy emphasis on liberty, individual freedom, and self-reliance. They have little confidence in government’s ability to play a role in improving society or the economy, and many of them look upon government as destructive, a force that undermines our basic freedom. They are fearful of centralized power, opposed to redistribution of any kind, and opposed to new government programs – or even to improving existing government programs they’d rather see cut. They reject entirely the notion of raising taxes or imposing new regulations on the private sector.

Moreover, a belief has taken hold among some conservatives in recent years that compromise and accommodation are betrayals of their cause. This has put great pressure on GOP leaders not to budge in their negotiations with the White House and Senate Democrats.

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.