A 10-year study of the influence business finds that the billions of dollars ($3.5 billion in 2009 alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics) thrown at elected officials add up to a whole lot of nothing—that is, the influential spend a lot of time, energy and cash stalemating each other and keeping things the way they are.
The real outcome of most lobbying — in fact, its greatest success — is the achievement of nothing, the maintenance of the status quo. “Sixty percent of the time, nothing happens,” says Frank Baumgartner, one author of the book and a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “What we see is gridlock and successful stalemating of proposals, with occasional breakthroughs. We see a pattern of no change, no change and no change — and then some huge reform.”
But those large reforms — such as health care for 32 million uninsured Americans under President Barack Obama, the scheduled phase-out of the estate tax under President George W. Bush, and the normalization of trade relations with China under President Bill Clinton — are far more often linked to a change in who inhabits the White House than to campaign contributions or K Street hires.
The health care bill may count as a breakthrough, but it’s also a clear-cut case of the power of lobbyists to corrupt public officials. Lately the stalemating described in the article excerpted above doesn’t seem to be working very well, at least where the interests of the unwashed masses are concerned. —PZS