Sunday, July 02, 2006

Money Wheel

One of the main stories today at the NY Times, currrently under specious assault, delivers a tale of our moribund government system, which has seen the growth of lobbying in Washington become so extreme that state and local governments now regularly employ made-guy lobbyists in order to get federal funding for public works projects like bridges and sewer plants. No, not pork barrel bridges, but actual needed bridges. This is becoming more and more the standard operating procedure for many cities, towns, public utilities, etc.. Rather than interacting directly with representatives in Congress, which often produces nothing, local public entities have found it necessary to jump on the bandwagon of private lobbying in order to get attention in Washington.

This scheme has become an enormous taxpayer money wheel, which sucks in taxpayer dollars at all levels, and circulates it around in one giant mill of influence peddling, glad-hand smiling and unofficial acknowledgments of the power of the lobbyists.

In normative government functionality, taxes are taken by the several government levels and disbursed to various projects and public services; roads, schools, public transport, etc.. When needs are not being met, the citizenry is expected to petition government -- at any level -- to redress the issue. Government officials at various levels engage and communicate about these things and, hopefully, an adequate solution is developed and funded with those levied taxes.

That is no longer the operating paradigm of governments in the United States. Things do not happen in the public realm because they need to be done. In fact, these days, very little gets done without the influence of Washington's professional class of influence-peddlers, otherwise known as lobbyists. Private lobbyists are, more often than not, either former state legislators, congressmen and women or, in the Abramoff model, sons, daughters and wives of current members of Congress. Despite many local pubic officials having never heard of earmarks before, lobbyists now knock on local government doors to let them know about the money pile in Washington. Lobbyists have the system down so cold, they guarantee "return on investment," and usually deliver. This entire system has developed mostly in contravention of law; it is a felony to use federal money to hire lobbyists. While the initial local funding likely comes from local revenues, once the Washington spiggot is opened, most expect the lobbyists simply get a cut of the take.

Amazingly, Ronald Utt, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, expresses puzzlement as to how lobbying works:
The mystery to me is the way they are able to promise returns.
Businesses do not generally operate on models that depends upon "mystery." No, the mystery is that this system's functionality is a mystery to someone associated with the Heritage Foundation.

Though lobbying has been around for a long time, its recent and lucrative growth bespeaks a United States government that now comprises a fourth branch, the facilitators; the ones who get the federal funding to those willing to pay for it. They are extremely well-paid, exert their influence behind closed doors and operate outside the parameters that normally bind actual government officials. It is a close-knit community of crony connections and neptotism. And US taxpayers fund this fourth branch, barely aware that it even exists.


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