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.

Lee Hamilton: Why government fails, and what we should do about it

by PSA Staff | August 7th, 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. He is also Co-Chair of  PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Rock River Times

Lee Hamilton: Why government fails, and what we should do about it

As election season approaches, I’ve been pondering a crucial issue about the role of government in our society. It’s that our government often fails — and that we need to address this. What’s odd is that while the frequent failures in government’s performance are very much on ordinary people’s minds, politicians don’t talk much about fixing them.

True, you might hear a few words about the issue when members are back in their districts this month revving up their re-election campaigns, but for the most part, they’ll be focused on issues like jobs and the economy. This is understandable, because that’s what their constituents expect to hear about. (more…)

Russia Violates International Law & Complicates International Priorities

by PSA Staff | April 29th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Gregory Gleichauf is a foreign affairs intern at Partnership for a Secure America. He currently attends James Madison University.

Russia Violates International Law & Complicates International Priorities

“I was in the middle of a phone call—I won’t tell you with whom—but with a prime minister from a country somewhere, and in the middle of it, I swear to God, the phone call got dropped twice while we were talking, so we had to reconnect and that’s why I’m late and that’s modern communications, I guess.” Even before he had gotten to the substance of his presentation, Secretary of State John Kerry had hinted at an underlying theme. On March 18, the Dean Acheson Auditorium of the U.S. State Department was filled with college students who had gathered to hear Secretary Kerry’s presentation entitled ‘Making Foreign Policy Less Foreign’ where he addressed some of the major issues facing American foreign policy today. The Secretary showed that even though the world has become more interconnected through globalizing forces, there are still countries that operate as he described as “on the wrong side of history.”

Innovations during the past century and into today have toppled barriers that inhibited greater international cooperation and connectivity among countries with mutual interests. Technology now allows for a Philadelphia corporation to talk with a partner in London in real time. With transportation advancements, a plane can leave Miami and land in Madrid just hours later. With these and other major developments, doors have opened to allow a greater and more rapid flow of culture, ideas, information and commerce that help bring the world closer together. With this increased cooperation and interdependence, enforcement of international law became a necessity to govern the workings of the world.

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Where Congress falls short, and where it doesn’t

by PSA Staff | April 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.

Where Congress falls short, and where it doesn’t

At a public gathering this year, someone asked me how I’d sum up my views on Congress. It was a good question, because it forced me to step back from worrying about the current politics of Capitol Hill and take a longer view.

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United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

by PSA Staff | September 24th, 2012 | |Subscribe

This article was written by two Spring 2012 Participants in PSA’s Congressional Partnership Program.  All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Hill Staff who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.

In 2004 and 2007, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was presented to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and both times the Committee passed the Convention. However, the Convention was never brought to the Senate for a full vote on both occasions. With the United States Navy patrolling every ocean in the world and an American economy struggling with high energy costs, the United States Senate should ratify the Convention as soon as possible.

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Nuclear terrorism treaties still incomplete

by Andy Semmel | September 14th, 2012 | |Subscribe

Andy Semmel served as deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation in the George W. Bush administration. He is on the board of directors of Partnership for a Secure America. This article originally appeared in the Washington Times.

SEMMEL: Nuclear terrorism treaties still incomplete

Congress hasn’t given its best effort to prevent nuclear terrorism. Despite broad bipartisan recognition that nuclear terror is one of the biggest threats of our time, two common-sense anti-terrorism treaties have been on the “to-do” list for more than half a decade. The Senate has the opportunity to pass those treaties in the weeks ahead and should do so for one simple reason: They would make America more secure.

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Reflections on the Coup, Part 1

by AJScavone | May 3rd, 2012 | |Subscribe

Anthony Scavone is a recent graduate of Boston University where he studied International Relations focusing specifically on International Development and Sub-Saharan Africa. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali from October until they were evacuated in mid-April. You can read more about his personal experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in his personal blog, Anthony in Africa. This is the first post in a two-post series about the motivations and impact of the recent military coup in Mali.

To boil down all the implications of recent events in Mali into a single post would not give justice to the true breadth of what has happened. Instead I will split this into two separate pieces: part one will focus on what this coup means for Mali and Malians. The second will focus more on what this means for me, the Peace Corps, and the international community at large.

Part 1: Mali and Malians

It’s become relatively common knowledge that the main grievance that drove the military to overthrow Amadou Toumani Toure (Better known as ATT) was the belief that ATT was strangling the military effort to maintain security in the vast northern regions of the country. Lack of food and supplies, while facing a Tuareg rebellion recently augmented by the fall of Gaddafi and the return of arms and trained Malian Tuaregs from Libya, drove mid-ranking military leaders to try to take matters into their own hands.

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James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton Op-Ed: Breaking the War Powers Stalemate

by PSA Staff | June 13th, 2011 | |Subscribe

PSA Advisory Board Co-Chairman Lee Hamilton and former Secretary of State James Baker III authored the following Washington Post op-ed calling on lawmakers to resolve the Executive and Legislative branch conflict over war-making authorities, an issue most recently highlighted by US involvement in Libya, and propose the War Powers Consultation Act as a possible means to do so.

With our country engaged in three critical military conflicts, the last thing that Congress and the White House should be doing is squabbling over which branch of government has the final authority to send American troops to war. But that is exactly what has been happening, culminating with the House’s rebuke of the Obama administration last Friday for the way it has gone about the war in Libya.

On one hand is a bipartisan group of House members who argue that President Obama overreached because he failed to seek congressional approval for the military action in Libya within 60 days of the time the war started, as required by the War Powers Resolution. The lawmakers are particularly upset because the administration sought, and received, support from the United Nations — but not from them.

On the other hand is the White House, which argues that history is on its side. The 1999 NATO-led bombing over Kosovo lasted 18 days longer than the resolution’s 60-day requirement before the Serbian regime relented.

Stuck in the middle are the American people, particularly our soldiers in arms. They would be best served if our leaders debated the substantive issues regarding the conflict in Libya — and those of Afghanistan and Iraq — rather than engaging in turf battles about who has ultimate authority concerning the nation’s war powers.

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Checks and Balances in Hungary

by Jessie Daniels | January 6th, 2011 | |Subscribe

http://i.telegraph.co.uk/telegraph/multimedia/archive/01623/Viktor-Orban_1623428c.jpg

As Hungary prepared to take the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on New Year’s Day, the country faced a slew of criticism over its new censorship laws.  The laws put Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party in control of overseeing the public media and create a party-run media council to regulate both public and private broadcasters.  Hungary’s Nepszabadsag newspaper declared that “the freedom of the press in Hungary has come to an end.” A Washington Post editorial decried the law as “more suited to an authoritarian regime than to a Western democracy.”

Troubling as the media censorship is in itself, it is even more troubling when considered in tandem with the approach Orban is taking to deal with the ailing Hungarian economy.  Since his party’s victory in the parliamentary elections in April of last year, Orban has focused on short-term measures to the chagrin of the EU and the International Monetary Fund, which both want Hungary to focus on long-term spending cuts.  One measure is a controversial reversal of a 1997 pension reform, a move that may in the long-run slow efforts to deal with Hungary’s debt, which is 80 percent of its GDP.  Orban has also sought to increase the party’s influence on monetary policy, allowing a Fidesz-controlled parliamentary committee to fill vacant posts on the Central Bank’s Monetary council.  But rather than ease these concerns, the measures have done little to assure others.  International unease continued as Fitch rating agency downgraded Hungary’s foreign currency credit rating to just above junk status last month. (more…)

Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan: Observations from the Ground

by James Prince | September 24th, 2010 | |Subscribe

The Afghanis and the global community will be sorting out the effects of the September 18 Parliamentary elections for weeks if not months.  Reports from the Independent Election Commission, and thousands of local and international observers, including those deployed by Democracy International (of which I served as a short term observer), will no doubt be mixed.  Nine years after the U.S. – led invasion and months after the American military “surge”, much of the country remains in the control of insurgents.  For up to date election-related information check the Democracy International website www.afghan2010.com.

President Obama said he believes the “Afghans have done a commendable job in setting up as best as they can a structure for a fair and important election.”  This understated sentiment certainly does not do justice to the tremendous, and perhaps overwhelming, challenges facing the Karzai administration.  A significant number of polling centers did not open or closed early due to Taliban attacks.  I counted at least twelve mortar attacks, a firefight, and a Taliban truck blaring threats to anyone who voted in one contested provincial capital.  Even the Afghan security forces were unable to deploy to many polling sites.  Over three thousand formal complaints, allegations of fraud, intimidation, and technical problems further degraded the poll’s legitimacy in the minds of many voters. (more…)

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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.