The first two paragraphs of the story provide anecdotal proof:
A few years ago, a coalition of 60 corporations -- including Pfizer, Hewlett-Packard and Altria -- made an expensive wager. They spent $1.6 million in lobbying fees -- a hefty amount even by recent K Street standards -- to persuade Congress to create a special low tax rate that they could apply to earnings from their foreign operations for one year.If you want to understand why government does work for regular people, look no further than this story. 'One man, one vote' has been replaced by 'ten grand, one vote,' with the lobbyists delivering the money and the senator or congressman delivering the vote.
The effort faltered at first, but eventually the bet paid off big. In late 2004, President Bush signed into law a bill that reduced the rate to 5 percent, 30 percentage points below the existing levy. More than $300 billion in foreign earnings has since poured into the United States, saving the companies roughly $100 billion in taxes.
Here's another revealing anecdote:
The Carmen Group Inc., a mid-size lobbying firm, is so proud of its performance that it annually publicizes its clients' costs and compares them with the benefits they receive. In 2004, the latest year available, Carmen said, it collected $11 million in fees and delivered $1.2 billion in assistance to its clients -- a ratio of less than 1 to 100. The payoff is large but fairly typical of modern-day lobbying, said David Carmen, the firm's president.So, it's not what you know, it's who you know to pay in order to get members of Congress to believe in what you know. We've moved from a marketplace of ideas to a time when the mindshare of members of Congress is up for bid on eBay!
Take Carmen Group's experience with the General Contractors Association of New York. The association paid Carmen $500,000 to persuade the federal government to cover its members' insurance premiums for cleanup work at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After three years of lobbying, the government agreed to pay $1 billion.
This profound distortion of our political process is one reason why our politics has become so removed from the everyday reality of regular citizens. In the constant crush of members of the House and Senate to raise campaign dollars, the only 'voices' that matter are the voices of the lobbyists, and they're only saying what they're paid to say.
The power of money in Washington is so great that the great huff and puff of electing a 'new' leader of the Republican majority in the House only came up with a compromised congressman from Ohio who rents an apartment from a lobbyist. Suddenly, House Republicans have cooled to the idea of real reform of the lobbying laws. Could it be the result of new flows of campaign contributions?
Government will not work for the rest of us until we return ideas, not money, to the center of the political process. Then, and only then, will we be able to drive those money changers from the temple of our Republic.