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 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 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 was originally published in the News-Sentinel.
Investigations get to the bottom of things and how to fix them for future
By my count, 11 separate Washington investigations are looking into the three big issues besetting the Obama administration right now: Benghazi, IRS targeting of tea party groups and the Justice Department’s pursuit of national security leaks to Associated Press reporters. That’s a lot of scrutinizing by any measure.
Don’t get me wrong. Each case raises important questions, and the investigations offer Americans the chance to find out what went wrong and to fix the problem. But that will only happen if the investigators — on Capitol Hill and within the executive branch — do it right.
I’ve done my share of digging into complex matters — as co-chair of the Iran-Contra Special Committee, of the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group — and what I know is this: An investigation ought to be forward-looking and constructive, focused on a key question that is important to the country and to the American people.
What does it take to keep our U.S. missions secure? That’s what the Benghazi inquiry is really about. How do we make sure the IRS remains rigorously non-partisan and competently managed? In the AP case, how should the government balance respect for freedom of the media against the need to safeguard national security? These are matters of national interest, and the investigations give us a chance to pursue each. (more…)
Former Senator, and PSA Advisory Board Member Gary Hart is currently President of Hart International, Ltd. He is chair of the Threat Reduction Advisory Council at the Department of Defense, was vice-chair of the Secretary of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council, former chair of the Council for a Livable World, chair of the American Security Project, and co-chair of the US-Russia Commission. For the past five years, he was a Scholar in Residence at the University of Colorado Denver. This was originally posted on the Huffington Post website.
Weep for the Senate
Generations of United States Senators now past would view with dazed wonder at what the world’s greatest deliberative body has become. Virtually all struggled to serve their and many struggled even more to stay there. Throughout the nation’s history the prestige of such service was second only to the presidency itself, and some preferred the Senate over the White House.
By the time we reach the 2014 election, almost one-third of the current Senate will have resigned in the past three elections. Recent reports indicate that those formerly considered to be virtually automatic candidates are rejecting the opportunity to seek the vacated Senate seats.
A variety of explanations are offered for this extraordinary situation: the financial costs of campaigns; the viciousness of political attacks; the toll taken in self-respect and dignity; media sensationalism; polarization leading to paralysis in the Senate itself.
At least for the present, the United States Senate is neither what it traditionally has been nor should be. (more…)
Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and a PSA Advisory Board Member. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This originally appeared on the Center on Congress’ blog.
How Politics Has Changed
When two senators recently got into a spat over whether the Boston Marathon bombings were being politicized, the news was everywhere within minutes. Reams of commentary quickly followed. In the maneuvering over gun-control legislation, every twist and turn was instantly reported and then endlessly debated. As the effects of the federal sequester start to make themselves felt, outlets in every medium — print, television, online — are carrying both the news and the inevitable partisan sniping over its meaning.
This is political reality today, and when people ask me how politics has changed since I first ran for Congress in 1964, it’s the first thing that comes to mind. Back then, when you spoke to the Rotary in a small town, you were speaking to a few members of the Rotary. Today, you might well be speaking to the world. A debate on Capitol Hill back then might or might not have made the news, but even if it did, days could go by before the rest of the country reacted. Today, the response is instantaneous, often hot-blooded, and almost inconceivably far-reaching. (more…)
This article originally appeared in The Standard-Examiner. The author, Representative Lee Hamilton, is Co-Chair of PSA’s Advisory Board.
The future of Congress should lie in the past
There is a fundamental truth about our political system that seems to have been forgotten in these days of high-stakes brinksmanship over policy: Democracy is a process, not an outcome.
In a representative democracy like ours, how we reach a result is every bit as important as the result itself — and maybe even more important.
For a long time, Congress recognized this. That is why, over many decades of practice, it built what is known as the “regular order” — a set of processes and means of doing business designed to ensure that proposals get careful scrutiny and all voices are given proper and respectful consideration.
By Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) This article first appeared in The Hill.
Despite the partisanship that currently afflicts our nation’s politics, there is at least one issue that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on – the need to prevent terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear bomb-making materials. Solidifying the historic legacy of American leadership in countering nuclear terrorism, more than fifty heads of state will gather today for the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit. The summit will bring together world leaders to strengthen global defenses against nuclear terrorism, one of the gravest threats to our security. The international nature of this gathering is critical; without a global effort to strengthen global defenses against nuclear terrorism, we could easily fall short.
In the United States, enhancing global nuclear security has been an area of bipartisan cooperation for more than two decades. In 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union caused command and control of the vast Soviet nuclear stockpile to unravel, and there was no accounting system to track nuclear weapons or materials. Fences surrounding installations that housed the Soviet nuclear arsenal were riddled with gaping holes, and there was no system to detect individuals who might steal weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. Scientists with the knowledge to create weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were suddenly jobless, and countless individuals – including guards at nuclear facilities – were struggling under hard economic times, giving them an incentive to steal nuclear material and sell it to the highest bidder. The challenge to keep Soviet weapons, materials, and expertise off the black market was overwhelming.
Bud McFarlane, former national security advisor and PSA Board Member, along with James Woolsey, former director of central intelligence, authored this Op-ed in The New York Times about their new bi-partisan effort, the United States Energy Security Council, encouraging the introduction of flex-fuel cars into the US market to foster better competition and put America on the path to energy independence. The article can also be read here.
OUR country has just gone through a sober national retrospective on the 9/11 attacks. Apart from the heartfelt honoring of those lost — on that day and since — what seemed most striking is our seeming passivity and indifference toward the well from which our enemies draw their political strength and financial power: the strategic importance of oil, which provides the wherewithal for a generational war against us, as we mutter diplomatic niceties.
Oil’s strategic importance stems from its virtual monopoly as a transportation fuel. Today, 97 percent of all air, sea and land transportation systems in the United States have only one option: petroleum-based products. For more than 35 years we have engaged in self-delusion, saying either that we have reserves here at home large enough to meet our needs, or that the OPEC cartel will keep prices affordable out of self-interest. Neither assumption has proved valid. While the Western Hemisphere’s reserves are substantial and growing, they pale in the face of OPEC’s, which are substantial enough to effectively determine global supply and thus the global price.
An article in last Sunday’s Washington Post profiled the recently formed National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona, which was founded in the wake of the January 8th attack in Tucson. The institute’s mission is to serve as a “national, nonpartisan center for debate, research, education and policy generation regarding civic engagement and civility in public discourse consistent with First Amendment principles.” Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton have agreed to serve as honorary chairs, and the institute’s board features a distinguished bipartisan group of leaders, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a PSA Advisory Board member. Among the institute’s main goals is “to connect people with diverse viewpoints and to offer a venue for vigorous and respectful debate.” For more information, click here to visit the institute’s website.
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Partnership for a Secure America’s Congressional Fellowship Program is now accepting applications for the Spring 2011 session. This highly selective program is for Congressional staff interested in generating dialogue and developing the skills and relationships required to advance bipartisanship on national security and foreign policy issues. Through training, networking, and exclusive activities, this unique program aims to build a “next generation” of foreign policy and security experts equipped to respect differences, build common ground and achieve US national interests. The deadline to apply is March 11, 2011. For further information about the program, and to apply, click here.
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.