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.
Lee H. 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 and is also a member of the PSA Advisory Board. This original article can be found at Deming Headlight.
Lee Hamilton Commentary: Why incumbents keep getting re-elected
It’s no news that Congress is unpopular. In fact, at times it seems like the only real novelty on Capitol Hill would be a jump in its approval rating. In June, a Gallup poll found members’ standing with the American people at a historic low for a midterm-election year. Which might have been notable except, as The Washington Post pointed out, that “Congress’s approval rating has reached historic lows at least 12…times since 2010.”
Here’s the interesting thing: nearly three-quarters of Americans want to throw out most members of Congress, including their own representative, yet the vast majority of incumbents will be returning to Capitol Hill in January. In other words, Americans scorn Congress but keep re-electing its members. How could this be? (more…)
Lee Hamilton served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. He is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board and is the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. This article was originally published on Glen Rose Current.
The poisonous power of money in politics
Many trends in American politics and government today make me worry about the health of our representative democracy. These include the decline of Congress as a powerful, coequal branch of government, the accumulation of power in the presidency and the impact of money on the overall political process.
Morton Halperin is a former member of PSA’s Board of Directors and is currently a senior adviser at the Open Society Institute. This article was originally published on Huffington Post Blog .
I Spy, You Spy: Limiting Government Surveillance of Private Citizens
During their visit last week, U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not succeed in resolving their disagreement about American spying on German officials and private citizens.
It appears that Germany still wants a “no spy” agreement with the United States, meaning that the two countries would cease and desist from spying on each other’s government officials and citizens.
But such an agreement was never a real possibility. No two nations have ever had a total ban on spying on each other. All governments seek to read the diplomatic traffic of all other governments, friend or foe. And all spy in some circumstances on residents of other countries as well as their own citizens.
Tara Sonenshine is a former member of PSA’s Board of Directors. She also served as U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and is currently a distinguished fellow at George Washington University. This article was originally published in the Washington Times.
Ukraine, a Tale of Two Countries
Ukraine’s real-life page-turning novel is getting complicated with new characters and scenes. America’s part in the story is a big one.
Interim President Arseniy Yatsenyuk came to Washington to see President Obama this week.
Ousted President Victor Yanukovych went to Moscow to give a speech.
In next week’s episode, citizens in Crimea will vote on a referendum on whether to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is playing good-cop, bad-cop with America and Russia and may be the only one with real sway. Mrs. Merkel has alternated between suggesting to President Obama that Vladimir Putin is “in another world,” to rapping Mr. Putin on the knuckles for illegal behavior.
Which power will emerge as the real hero in this tale of two countries? My money is on Ukraine — because of one word: culture.
You can’t stop culture with military might. Culture creates societal change and is rarely motivated by the butt of a rifle or the barrel of a gun.
Visiting Ukraine last April, I saw the range of influences that make up the cultural diversity of this unique country. Every facet of Ukrainian life is a reminder of shared traditions.
I came in the season of Easter when children dye Easter eggs for the holiday. I attended a Jewish Shabbat service the same week.
I found museums in Kiev alive with paintings — Ukrainian art and Russian works co-existing in the National Art Museum in Kiev, from David Burliuk to Maria Sinyakova to Mikhail Boichuk and others.
Music in Ukraine ranges from Polissa pop to Kolomiya rap, from Cossack songs to Russian ballads. Even the cuisine is varied —from borshch to ukha, blyntsi to Paska. Its dishes and ingredients hail from Russia, Poland, Germany and Turkey.
Literature in Ukraine is translated around the world into German, English, Russian and other languages. Ukrainian poets and authors are often on display at Germany’s Leipzig Book Fair taking place this week.
Culture is a durable good and fortifies a nation.
What makes this tale so tragic is that even with a strong culture, Ukraine will pay a heavy price for Russia’s intervention. The Russian assault on Ukrainian life will drain the country of necessary resources at a time when the economy is terrible — one of the issues that Mr. Obama and Mr. Yatsenyuk discussed.
In addition to the positive sides of Ukrainian life, I saw, firsthand, an educational system in dire need of support. I visited School No. 168, bringing together students of diverse backgrounds including Ukrainian youth with disabilities. Like many educational institutions, School No. 168 needs funding, more books and computers so that young minds can be nourished and nurtured — so that they can produce more great writers and artists.
That’s where America and the West come in. We have to provide resources to keep Ukraine sturdy. The International Monetary Fund and congressional money is helpful but won’t immediately change circumstances on the ground. We need a public diplomacy campaign to raise money for Ukraine and to raise the rhetorical outrage. Let’s adopt Ukraine as a cause. The Ukrainian people have the right to choose their own diverse narrative — to write their own story.
As for the referendum, the Crimea is part of Ukraine and no referendum will be considered legal or binding by a 2014 global community. The Russian government can’t tell Ukrainians they are not part of Ukraine just as you can’t tell Ukrainian-Americans residing in Pennsylvania that they are not part of the United States.
Ukraine will emerge from this crisis stronger because of its culture and citizens. We have not read the last chapter.
Gary Hart served as US Senator of Colorado from 1975-1987 and is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Security Is the New Oil
The confused debate, such as it is, over the struggle between privacy and security in the era of Snowden reveals again even greater confusion over our attitudes about government. The conservative anti-government party seems more comfortable (or perhaps less uncomfortable) with intelligence agencies listening to their phone calls than the progressive pro-government party which deplores government surveillance.
Put another way, conservatives seem more willing to sacrifice privacy for security than progressives. But this was true in other ways during the Cold War and War on Terrorism eras. Those outraged by government spending did not believe that expensive weapons systems, however questionable, involved government spending. And conservatives came to strongly support entitlement programs from which they benefitted. Though unspoken, the government spending to which they were opposed were by and large public assistance to the poor and unemployed, a relative small portion of the federal budget compared to defense and entitlements.
But the principal conundrum involves defining the “government” which we either support or oppose. The government composed of a vast defense and intelligence network (and “intelligence” broadly defined is now costing more than $70 billion a year–including the controversial telephone monitoring system) receives little criticism, even for its massive surveillance of American citizens, from those who oppose big government. And those who support public assistance to the poor, elderly, and unemployed by and large oppose government intrusion into their lives.
A notable exception to these confused attitudes toward government is represented by many libertarians who have emerged in the age of Snowden to decry NSA intrusion in their lives. Unlike modern conservatives and liberals who support those government activities they like and oppose those government programs they oppose, libertarians usually demonstrate more intellectual integrity. Big government is bad whatever it is up to. With few exceptions, institutions such as the Cato Institute have deserved respect over the years for this consistency.
Which is the point of this commentary: let’s all be more consistent. Either we are against government spending and bureaucracy in all its forms, including surveillance programs, or we are for some and against others. Consistency in this regard at least has the therapeutic affect of revealing radio talk show rhetoric for what it is…pure rhetoric.
So what can be done to reconcile privacy and security? Require Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) courts to hear privacy advocates, not just security lawyers, before issuing a warrant for surveillance as required by the Fourth Amendment. Require NSA and other intelligence collectors to be more honest with Congressional oversight committees and those committees to be more vigilant in doing their jobs. Require presidents and their administrations to exercise more control over the intelligence collection services. (Will we ever know whether President Obama himself knew of the vast collection being carried out by NSA before the Snowden revelations?) And finally, require applications to FISA courts for surveillance warrants to identify specific targets with specific, but renewable, time limits and very specific showings of probable cause for suspecting those targets.
In the wireless age, cell phone users must understand that their conversations are being broadcast and thus subject to off-the-shelf Radio Shack technology intercepts. One suspects that al Qaeda operatives have figured this out some time ago. Though it seems confusing at best, there is and will be less privacy in wireless communications than those on more secure land lines.
Which points to an ugly truth: government intelligence services are not the only ones hacking our conversations and communications. There is a vast underground network of private hackers intruding on our privacy in massive ways. Shut down the NSA and you have still not secured your privacy. Welcome to the 21st century.
The age of communications, mass social media, ubiquitous technology, and of mass interception (and thus of Snowden) is a new world…and not an especially brave one. Advocates and policy makers on both sides–security and privacy–are staking out their positions and the balance required for an advanced 21st century democracy has yet to be struck. Expect the as-yet not very productive debate to continue. Out of the polarized pro-surveillance/anti-surveillance struggle some new rules will eventually emerge. And hopefully they will work…at least for a while.
But then, some years down the line, there will be a new threat, a new technology, possibly a new government agency, and the cycle will begin again. Security is the new oil. Remember the closing scene in Three Days of the Condor. The CIA man (Cliff Robertson) tells Robert Redford’s Joe Turner that of course the renegade CIA unit was pursuing oil: “The American people want oil and they want us to get it for them. They don’t care how we get it. They just want us to get it.”
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 Detroit News.
Balancing liberty and security
Every few days, we learn yet one more way in which government’s expanded surveillance powers intrude upon our privacy and civil liberties.
Last week, it was the revelation that spy agencies in the U.S. and Britain have been snagging personal data from the users of mobile phone apps.
Before that came news that the National Security Agency was tracking our social connections and delving into our contact lists.
It appears the agency can do anything it wants when it comes to collecting information on pretty much anyone it wants.
We can take pride in this technological virtuosity, but it has propelled an expansion of government power unlike anything I’ve seen since I joined Congress 50 years ago.
So we face the crucial question of what to do about it. How can we prevent abuse of the capabilities the NSA has been given?
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 Union-Bulletin.
Even in national security realm, dogged journalism a blessing, not a curse
Let’s start with the obvious: A democracy needs intelligence agencies. It needs to know what’s happening in the world — and understand the plans of allies and enemies — to keep the nation prepared and secure.
If intelligence work is going to be effective, much of it has to be done in secret. “National security” is not merely an excuse for keeping intelligence activity under wraps: often, the only way to protect our collective well-being is to pursue many national security activities, including intelligence-gathering, in the dark.
But that’s if they’re legitimately in the national interest. All too often, governments use secrecy to protect themselves politically or to shroud activities that, seen in the cold light of day, their citizens would reject. This is why secrecy in government can be dangerous, and should be subject to the checks and balances of our constitutional system.
However legitimate secrecy may be, though, there is a limit to how much a democracy can stand. As ordinary citizens, we need information about what our government is up to in order to make informed and discriminating choices about politicians and policies. Journalists and their media outlets are indispensable conveyors of this information. The work of the journalist, who often presses for a more open, accountable government, creates tensions with a government set upon guarding state secrets. But it’s a healthy, much-needed tension. (more…)
Tara D. Sonenshine is the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, a former PSA Board Member. This article originally appeared in the Daily Monitor, an independent daily newspaper in Uganda.
We should protect freedom of expression in all media
World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every May 3 to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and to honour journalists who have lost their lives in pursuit of their profession.
But as many human rights activists and journalists and people of conscience often ruefully declare, every day should be World Press Freedom Day. That’s because – as I write this – almost 250 journalists languish in prisons worldwide. Many more are harassed, intimidated and even murdered. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, throughout the world nearly 600 journalists have been murdered with impunity since 1992 – and last year was the deadliest of all for journalists.
What are their purported crimes? Doing what journalists should in any free society: reporting to all of us what is going on in their communities and in their countries. (more…)
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Jamie Metzl served on the National Security Council in the Clinton Administration and is Co-Chairman of Partnership for a Secure America and a former Executive Vice President of the Asia Society. This article first appeared on Project Syndicate.
NEW YORK — The compelling drama of former Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai’s ouster amid allegations of corruption and murder, and of blind Chinese human-rights advocate Chen Guangcheng’s dash to safety in the US Embassy in Beijing, are more than just fascinating narratives of venality and courage. Unless China can purge the thousands of corrupt Party leaders like Bo, and empower people – like those Chen represents – who have been left behind or harmed by rapid growth, its economy will increasingly suffer.
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.