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Full employment for lobbyists

Don’t think for a moment that it is easy for a long-time Democrat to lobby for polluting oil companies or avaricious banks.

TOM BURGUM
Contributing Columnist
burgum@lbknews.com

The Obama administration has been bedeviled by pernicious unemployment that continuous oblivious to the many attempts at stimulus. There is one glimmer of hope however; full employment for lobbyists is at hand. The Congress and the president, in their infinite wisdom, have placed a major part of our economy at the mercy of several hundred faceless bureaucrats who, in their turn, will be set upon by legions of lobbyists.

The Sunday New York Times reported that congress finally reached agreement on the details of the financial overhaul legislation. Frankly, no one really knows what the legislation will accomplish, including Senate Banking Committee chairman and chief sponsor of the measure, Chris Dodd, who famously admitted that we won’t know how the banking reform bill works until it is put into practice.

Mr. Dodd can be forgiven his lack of foresight because, according to the Times, “The bill…is basically a 2,000 page missive to federal agencies, instructing regulators to address subjects ranging from derivatives trading to document retention. But it is notably short on specifics, giving regulators significant power to determine its impact—and giving lobbyists on both sides a chance to influence the outcome.”

Enter the lobbyists. AARP, bankers, the unions and all the rest know Congress left so much to the regulators that partisans on both sides have a second chance to influence the outcome. Needless to say, they are ready. “Interest groups have been preparing for months,” reported the Times. “When the Consumer Bankers Association convened its annual meeting in early June, there was still plenty of time to lobby Congress. But the group’s president, Richard Hunt, told his board that the group should shift its focus to the rule-making process. The board voted to increase the group’s budget and staff.” You can bet that the Consumer Bankers Association is only one of many interest groups ready to pounce.

There are several immutable laws of physics such as the “three laws of thermodynamics.” Add a fourth: The number of lobbyists in Washington will increase in direct proportion to the propensity of the government to mess with our lives.

Today’s Washington has become nirvana for lobbyists—particularly if they have a Democratic background.

Take BP’s current efforts to overcome its negligence, or at least limit the consequences. There is currently a formidable group of Democrats working on BP’s behalf in Washington. These include Tony Podesta whose brother was President Clinton’s chief-of-staff; Jamie Gorelick, a top Justice Department official under Mr. Clinton; and Michael S. Berman, who was a top aid to vice president Walter Mondale before becoming a lobbyist. Gorelick, who also served as a member of the 9/11 Commission, “proved critical in coaching the company during tense negotiations with President Obama over the creation of a $20 billion escrow fund for spill damages,” according to columnist Daniel Foster.

Gorelick, while serving as assistant attorney general under Bill Clinton, drafted the famous order dictating that the FBI and CIA could not share information. Later, while serving on the 9/11 Commission, she helped author the report that blamed the CIA and FBI for not communicating with each other. She was obviously a lobbyist waiting to happen.

Gorelick is not the only prominent Democrat to serve in the BP stable. Mr. Obama’s Undersecretary of Energy for Science, Dr. Steven E. Koonin, served as BP’s chief scientist for four years. Koonin’s job was to develop the long-range strategy of going “beyond petroleum” to alternative and renewable energy sources.

BP’s “beyond petroleum” was pure, unadulterated bull, designed to appear green, which is today’s color of fashion. BP’s alternative energy generation is miniscule. Daniel Foster in National Review Online reports, “The company currently produces about 2.03 gigawatts of solar.” Just so you understand, global electricity generation in 2008 was about 20 million gigawatts. Now Koonin is inside the Department of Energy where the levers of power are even more readily accessible.

Don’t think for a moment that it is easy for a long-time Democrat to lobby for polluting oil companies or avaricious banks. It takes more than a little chutzpah to approach the federal bureaucracy to defend BP, a group of the most destructive Brits to set up off our shores since 1812. First you will likely have to approximate a “Road to Damascus” conversion. A six-figure fee facilitates the religious experience. Next, you must approach people who now know you are without principle and somehow convince them you are something more than just a hired gun.

Pity the Republican who faces the same dilemma when, from time to time, he must represent companies whose interests are in direct conflict with long-held political beliefs. It’s a difficult life best suited for those not overburdened with conscience.

Still, some would argue, lobbyists are a necessary and protected evil as they are defenders of our First Amendment right to petition the legislature. On the other hand, there are some (some say many) who think lobbyists are “bottom-feeding scumbags.” Jack Abramoff comes to mind. Most likely lobbyists are a bit of both, sometimes defenders of the First Amendment, sometimes just bottom feeders.

However you view lobbyists, you many rest assured that their numbers in Washington will grow and grow as Mr. Obama and the Congress expand government’s reach.

Click here for all of Burgum’s columns.

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