Campaigning in Ohio recently, Gov. Sarah Palin echoed a common sentiment: "There's anger about the insider dealing of lobbyists." Standing on stage with an open barn in the background she went on to say "I love 'Small Town USA' because hardworking, good American (families), you guys, you just get it." While Palin peppers every other sentence with a reference to small towns, Sens. Biden, Obama and McCain never go too long without mentioning them either.
Listen to any of their speeches for any duration of time and you will hear that lobbyists are bad and small towns, along with their people and values, are good. Both major party presidential and vice presidential nominees are guilty of oversimplifying the issue to the point of absurdity.
This oversimplification is dangerous because it places the blame for Washington's problems outside of the Congress itself.
Representatives in the House go about their days representing the normal interests of the constituents. But to others those so-called normal interests are very much special interests.
While the line between pork barrel spending and normal interests is quite blurry, there is a distinction. Sen. Ted Stevens', D-Alaska, infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" is the epitome of pure pork. At a cost of $223 million the bridge was to connect Gravina Island and its 50 residents with a nearby sizable town.
But most requests for infrastructure and other expenditures are hardly so outlandish.
Back to small towns and normal interests, a good example is agriculture. The real work in Congress gets done in committees, one such being the House Committee on Agriculture. The good people of Small Town USA's representatives disproportionately sit on the agriculture committee. Of the 45 members of the committee, few represent districts in non-rural areas.
Representing the perfectly normal interests of their constituents, the committee puts out legislation severely biased toward the agriculture industry. This year's farm bill (The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008) allocated $307 billion to ensure that farmers of almost every crop will receive more from the government. An example of the absurdity: The government will purchase sugar for double the going global rate and then sell it at an 80 percent loss.
Were lobbyists from the agricultural industry involved in the legislation? Undoubtedly. Nonetheless, in a committee filled with people representing agricultural interests, lobbyists or not, the legislation is going to come out heavily favoring agricultural interests.
This is not inherently a problem. In an extremely diverse natioCon functioning under a representative democracy, people with similar interests will group together to further their cause.
This comes as no surprise, as back in 1787, James Madison penned Federalist Paper No. 10 about the factions that will inevitably arise. He went on further to describe the mechanism by which our nation could effectively deal with them.
Special interests are perhaps the purest embodiment of a faction. Lobbyists represent many issues near and dear to the Brown community. Sierra Club, the pro-environment group, believes "lobbying legislators is at the core of the democratic process in the United States." Save Darfur has instructions on how to have an "effective advocacy meeting" with members of Congress on their Web site.
While there are the multitudes of lobbyists who represent "nefarious" organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America and "Big Oil," determining what constitutes a good and bad organization is ultimately a difficult task. Furthermore, there is no neutral entity capable of making such a distinction.
If lobbying were to somehow magically disappear, I do not doubt Congress's agenda would change. But I strongly disagree with the notion that this would "fix Washington" as both McCain and Obama insist. Congress has plenty of its own problems without lobbyist involvement.