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Deep Pocket Politics: Analyzing Current Political Lobbying Data

From local government, to Congress, lobbying can bring about significant change in political leadership, influence and even spawn policy implementation.

Essentially, lobbying is, a paid activity involving organized teams of individuals known as special interest groups, that make policy-related appeals to government officials. These special interest groups hire political or industry players, many of whom are lawyers, to argue in favor of, or against specific pieces of legislation in the decision-making bodies of government. 

While legally allowed to help “phrase” the special interest group’s proposal, this translates into a lawyer or team of lawyers drafting a proposed piece of legislation, ultimately finding itself in the hands of an elected official.

The current decline in union memberships across the country is an example of what’s commonly referred to as the “collective action problem.” Simply put, the larger the group, the harder it becomes to agree unanimously, collaborate effectively and meet goals.

Combatting the collective action problem, special interest groups, according to political scientist Mancur Olson, are more successful due to “providing selective benefits to their members.” Examples of special interest groups include the Mexican American Legal Defense, American Petroleum Institute, and American Association of Retired Persons, which offers members relevant literature, discounts on products and services.

According to data compiled from Politico, the Washington Post, Statista and Center for Responsive Politics, the total amount of political lobbying spending during the year 2000, was $1.56 billion. Still, this falls short of the total $3.15 billion spent in 2019, and this year’s growing total of $1.76 billion. 

Industries are comprised of corporations, so Apple, and Intel, are all corporations within the Electronics industry. Indicated by the same data sources shown above, the top three industries in annual lobbying spending for the year 2020 are Insurance at $80.43 million, Electronics at $80.54 million and finally, the Pharmaceutical industry at $156.58 billion. The vast majority of lobbying contributions in the Pharmaceutical industry in support of Democrats. 

Analyzing lobbying data from the 2016 Presidential Election, the difference between dollars raised for President Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton is astounding. Trump actually received a mere $172,213, making him the third-highest lobbying funded candidate, behind Florida’s former governor, Jeb Bush, with a total of $562,028 lobbying funds. Neither Republican candidates compete with the $3.13 million lobbying funds accepted by Clinton. Currently, the number of lobbying funds for Joe Biden are listed at $331,965 and $119,417 for President Trump.

From his essay written in 1788, entitled Federalist No. 10, fourth President of the United States, James Madison writes that a faction is, “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” 

Madison continues, “it will be found, indeed, on a candid review of our situation, that some of the distress under which we labor have been erroneously charged on the operation of our governments; but it will be found, at the same time, that other causes will not alone account for many of our heaviest misfortunes; and, particularly, for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other. These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.”

James Madison’s solution to this can be found in the political theory of pluralism, which states that every group with a particular interest should be able to form an organization that will pursue policies to further that interest. Theoretically, as one faction grew into a majority, the “widening sphere,” or emergence of more factions would ultimately balance out the distribution of power, wealth and influence. 

Within the modern context of lobbying, pluralism suggests that if all interest groups are free to compete for influence over government officials, then the spectrum will continuously readjust and balance itself out proportionately, as new interest groups emerge. 

In this case, pluralism may not cut it. According to data from Princeton University Professor, Martin Gilen’s book Affluence & Influence. Researching what he calls the “preference/policy link,” Gilens writes in his book that, “few will be surprised that the link between preferences and policies turns out to be stronger for the higher-income Americans than for the poor.”

This multi-billion-dollar political apparatus is growing and if left unchecked, could further interfere with the Democratic process, until it’s well outside of any individual or group’s control. Consider P.J. O’Rourke’s bleak sentiment coming to fruition, “when buying is controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.”

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