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Ron Swanson's Top Ten List

Thursday June 23, 2011
ron swanson Have you watched the NBC TV Show: Parks and Recreation? It is an absolutely hilarious satire of state and local government, lobbying and politics. The Head of the Parks Department is a character named Ron Swanson. Ron is a libertarian who believes in minimal government, yet he is the head of the parks department. This irony sets up some classic comedy. In any event, Mr. Swanson fiercely defends individual liberties, so does the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. They have just published their annual index of economic and person freedom in the 50 States. I wonder why there is not more lobbying going on around some of the issues raised in this report. For example, in Maryland where I live, we score high on economic freedom but low in personal freedom. For a highly "blue" state, this seems odd to me. Is it that people are unaware of how they are regulated? Does anyone care about personal freedom or even know what that means? Comments are always welcome. You can find the report here. Take the political philosophy quiz. Where do you score? nlan chart

Health Care is Out as a Business Opportunity

Sunday February 6, 2011

As the 112th Congress begins, I am wondering where new business is hiding. Last year, the Health Care debate drew in an incredible number of diverse interests who, for the most part, propped up the lobbying industry during the recession. Where is business coming from now? According to CQ Moneyline Analysis, lobbying revenues are down.

The Roll Call article above points out that the farm bill is coming up next year and that financial firms are continuing their efforts. I have friends lobbying the various trade bills. But I am not sure what other revenue engines are floating around out there. With the 2012 election cycle about to kick into high gear, I expect Washington to slow down as it usually does during presidential elections. What is going on in the States? Please share your opinions about the business of lobbying.

Fun and Games

Saturday February 5, 2011
Do you want to be president of the United States, on the Supreme Court, a Member of Congress? Whether you do or not, you can play one on the Internet. Go to the iCivics website and play their games. They are a ton of fun. iCivics "is a web-based education project designed to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in our democracy. iCivics is the vision of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is concerned that students are not getting the information and tools they need for civic participation, and that civics teachers need better materials and support." Justice O'Connor is right. The problem is bigger though. This has been going on for years and now we have an adult population that is ill prepared for civic participation. Check out the site, encourage others to go play the games. They are not just for kids.

Responsive Government

Friday February 4, 2011

Rex Nutting argued in an article for Marketwatch.com that we should abolish the United States Senate because it is aristocratic and blocks the democratic process. After reading the article, I think he believes that the Senate is responsible for gridlock in government.

The Senate exists as a check on the will of the majority. It is a great concept and was an accommodation to those founding fathers who believed that equal representation was a better form of government that proportional representation. Mr. Nutting has correctly identified a major problem in the United States; our government has become very elite. The problem is not the Senate. It was always intended to be an elite legislative body. I submit that the actual problem in Washington is the fixed size of the House of Representatives.

The founding fathers intended the House of Representatives (the People's House) to grow in proportion to the growth of the U.S. population. In 1791, a Member of Congress represented about 50,000 people. Today, Members of Congress represent over 700,000 people. If we kept that same proportion, the House of Representatives should have 6300 members.

In 1929, Congress decided to fix the size of the House at 435 members. What has happened over time is that our Members of Congress represent so many people that they only respond to those who they know, who support them, or are large interests in their districts. The diverse views of the 300+ million people who live in the United States are completely shut out. The House has simply become a larger Senate. A body made up of 435 largely millionaires, representing 700,000 people each. We do not need to abolish the Senate, we need to increase the size of the House. I do not know what the right number is, but 435 is too small and is the reason why "special interests" and we lobbyists wield such influence. What do you think?

Interesting reading: Thirty-thousand.org; Constituency Size and the Growth of Public Expenditures; We Need a Bigger House.

The 2010 Election

Friday November 26, 2010
Election Results

We the People spoke. What do you make of this election? Was it really a Republican blowout? What the heck is a "shellacking"? My take is this: the American People are angry. Unless the economy improves, they will still be angry.

What does it mean for "We the Lobbyists?" It means opportunity. A divided government means our business will grow. The new Congress will be moving towards curtailing or eliminating earmarks. If they succeed, it means that budget and line-item authorization advocacy will become much more important; lobbying in those areas will increase. The White House is also signaling that it will accept some retention of the Bush Tax Cuts. Tax lobbyists will be busy. If you work appropriations, I'd switch to authorizations. If the economy does not improve though expect more ethics reform. Lobbyists are easy targets for blame in bad times.

The president has a couple of opportunities as well. President Clinton, facing a similar election result, was able to meet his opposition half-way on welfare reform, free trade and some other centrist issues. For this president to win re-election, he will need a similar strategy. The Korean free trade agreement as well as some South American free trade agreements present opportunities for him to score wins. They will also present the lobbying industry with opportunities for business.

Nationwide, turnout among people 18 to 29 years old dropped to 20.9 percent this year, down from 23.5 percent in 2006, according to an estimate by Circle, a research group that tracks civic engagement of young voters. In 2008, about 51 percent of young people voted, mostly for the president. The youth vote is extremely important in many Congressional races, particularly those districts where major colleges are located. A decline in voter turnout on college campuses cost Democrats a number of House seats on Election Day.

The terrible performance of Democratic candidates in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Colorado leaves major electoral college states under Republican control. For re-election in 2012, the president will need a completely new strategy. He has to make major changes in the way he governs and in the way he communicates to the American people. The news is not all bad for the president. Polling for hypothetical 2012 White House races with different Republican candidates has voters uniformly picking the president by large margins. In fact, he leads Sarah Palin by 13 points.

Alternative Energy has Alternative Lobbying

Friday November 26, 2010
Alternative Energy

What do Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and T.Boone Pickens have in common?

Reid is the Mormon, progressive (yes, I am avoiding the "L" word) leader of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate and Pickens is a Billionaire Texas oilman and former Republican donor. According to Roll Call, Pickens and Reid have formed a formidable alliance to further the Pickens' Plan to move the country off of oil and towards natural gas and electric powered vehicles.

Could they be working for the Common Good? It certainly appears that way. Guess what else, Pickens is not, I repeat not, making any campaign contributions. The proverbial sky must be falling. The man is advocating a cause and not paying a cover charge. Stay tuned, the Promoting Natural Gas and Electric Vehicles Act is scheduled for a November 17 cloture vote and the Natural Gas industry and Democrats are courting each other intensely...

Update: the cloture vote was cancelled on November 17, 2010 and the bill died. The Common Good lost...

Lobbyists, Candidates and Public Opinion

Friday November 26, 2010
Lobbying Reform

Both major political parties continue to attack each other over ties to lobbyists and the "influence industry."

A recent Washington Post piece summarizes these recent attacks. Lobbying and lobbyists remain bad words in American mainstream political discourse. How long can the lobbying industry survive as it is if we are continually tied to scandals and allegations of corruption?

How bad is it? Remember Jack Abramoff and Kevin Ring? The government's case against Ring is quite weak. The Jury Questionnaire in the Ring re-trial posed the following questions:

"Which of the following, if any, fits with your view of lobbying? Answer either yes or no.

Lobbying is the exercise of the democratic right of American industries, businesses, and individuals to influence lawmaking, government policy and decision making that affects their interests.

Lobbying is influence peddling on behalf of wealthy people or businesses.

Lobbying, whether on behalf of rich people, the middle class, or poor people, should be prohibited.

Lobbying can help ensure that government officials make decisions that are in the best interests of the United States.

Lobbying is a fancy term for trying to get government officials to do what the lobbyist wants even if it is not good for the country.

Lobbying is paying off politicians and government officials to get them to do something.

Lobbying is legitimate business.

Lobbying is a necessary part of democratic society based on the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."

How do you think average Americans would answer these questions? How would you?

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