Sterling went through the roof today because City traders smelt blood - such a weak political leadership in charge of the withdrawal from the Single Market means that lobbyists and special interest groups will be able to run rings around negotiators, cementing their paymasters’ post-2008 power-grab against European institutions.

People come from Wall Street and go into government and then leave government and go back into Wall Street. When you have this kind of revolving door, it’s not just that their interests are not well-aligned with the public; it’s that their mindset is captured by the industry from which they come. They see their interest — the interest of Wall Street — as if it were in the public interest.
—  Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz on lobbying. [full interview here]
Instead of ensuring that everyone in America can compete in a global economy, instead of narrowing the divide between rich and poor, instead of supporting competitive free markets for American inventions that use information—instead, that is, of ensuring that America will lead the world in the information age—U.S. politicians have chosen to keep Comcast and its fellow giants happy. The government removed all rules from high-speed Internet access and allowed steep market consolidation in the hope that competition among providers would protect consumers. But that competition has not materialized; the cable industry, whose collusive practices have been largely ignored by regulators, has decisively dominated the wired marketplace and has done its best to foil municipal efforts to provide publicly owned fiber Internet access. As a result, the United States now has neither a competitive market for highspeed wired Internet access nor government oversight.
—  Susan Crawford, Captive Audience

New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton joins us today to talk about lobbying and how corporations have found new ways to influence congress and public opinion. In the interview he explains how lobbying groups have changed: 

If you look at the over all number of lobbyists who were former government officials, it’s increased tremendously over the last 15 or so years. Almost half of all lobbyists today are former government officials. It used to be a much smaller percentage…

In the last three or four years the amount of money spent on registered lobbyists and the number of lobbyists has declined, and that’s in part because there’s been such division in congress that congress is getting very little done and so the corporations aren’t spending a lot of money to try to influence congress. What it has meant recently is that it’s a much smaller circle. The former staffers and the lawmakers and the current staffers, they socialize together, they golf together, they go to each other’s weddings… it creates a very clubby atmosphere in which the people who are in it have advantages that the people outside of it don’t. It makes special interest [able] to influence the process in ways that people who don’t have those kinds of connections wish they could.

photo via mashabale

Day 120: February 5, 2015

Autism Speaks

Not all K Street Lobbying groups are entirely evil, which is of course the argument you hear all the time… in DC. In any case, Autism Speaks, founded only nine years ago, conducts advocacy and awareness campaigns for those living with autism and their families. Incidentally, Autism Speaks today takes the position that many studies have shown no link between vaccines and autism (many of these studies funded by Autism Speaks), states that further studies would be a waste of valuable research dollars, and encourages all parents to get their children vaccinated

K & 20th Streets NW, Washington, DC

SOPA/PIPA and Why Lobbying Is Not Corrupt

My turn back on the skewer: lobbying is not an inherently bad thing.

To make my case, let me briefly recount an under-appreciated part of the debate about PIPA and SOPA: the roles that lobbying played in both designing and killing the proposed bills (at least SOPA).

News flash: lots of bills passed through Congress are originally drafted in interest groups. In some ways, this seems corrupt–it looks like Congress is just carrying out the lobbyists’ will in exchange for campaign contributions. Yet at others it makes perfect sense: members of Congress have no special expertise in most of the issues that come before them, so they rely on experts to explain industry needs, emerging trends and the like. 

Over time, members of Congress come to rely on lobbyists and other experts in their field to understand major issues. They develop relationships with lobbyists and the bureaucracies that implement regulations that are based on friendly interaction rather than on coercion or direct pay-for-play corruption. These “issue networks” (as people like me call them) tend to dominate policy-making in a given area: interested persons work with Congress and bureaucracies to shape legislation in ways that seem to work for everyone–or at least everyone in the conversation, which it turns out isn’t everyone. Which matters–as I’ll explain in a couple of paragraphs.

Notably, most of the time this set of mutually reinforcing relationships “work,” at least in the sense that laws get passed, money gets raised, and not too much of a stink gets raised about any particular issue. Lots of laws get passed this way. It’s ordinary business in Congress.

It seems to me that PIPA and SOPA emerged from exactly this kind of issue network. Hollywood producers went to their long-standing allies, both Republican and Democratic, and pushed for legislation that served their interests against online, digital piracy. Note that this is a real issue: while people today seem to think music ought always be free online, the fact is that lots of people are trying to make a living producing entertainment content, and digital piracy is costing them billions of dollars every year. It also costs jobs since if a producer doesn’t make money, people don’t get hired to make music and TV and movies, etc. 

So the industry proposed a bill that seemed to work for their interests, and their allies in Congress thought it made sense so they supported it. After all, social media and the digital age are new things, and members of Congress are older, not particularly technologically literate, and don’t think about Facebook or BitTorrent … well, at all. Why would they? They have jobs and lives and experiences–and relationships with established media companies that have been long-standing and effective for many years. Basically, they only had a conversation about SOPA/PIPA within their issue network, where everyone thought it was a good idea.

Which, of course, ended up biting them in the ass. For while social media is new, it is expansive. It can mobilize lots of people to a cause very quickly–especially when this mobilization can itself take place digitally. That is, since all you have to do to lobby as a member of the digital generation is send an email or sign an online petition, social media are tailor-made for your lobbying efforts. It works easily and smoothly–digital media at its best.

And, of course, it worked. My sense is not that Congress was trying to destroy Youtube or BitTorrent or whatever, but rather that it had no idea that there was a case to be made against SOPA/PIPA. It didn’t know because when members supported the legislation, they never heard anyone opposed to it offer their point of view. They weren’t part of the issue network, so they didn’t get noticed.

What the online lobbying against SOPA/PIPA did was push the digital community’s voice into the conversation in a dramatic way. It mobilized a strong counter-lobbying force sufficient to blunt the ideas floated among a relatively small group of people with reinforcing opinions. 

So congratulations, all of you who took steps to kill SOPA/PIPA: you’re now lobbyists, too. Just–this time, it looks like you won. Let me suggest you keep it up.

The top 5 times Cameron has put big business ahead of British citizens

David Cameron and George Osborne’s declared “victory” in ensuring Google only pay 3% of their tax bill, while everybody else has to pay their fair share of tax. This poses the question: does Cameron put big business ahead of his own citizens? Here are five answers.

1. Cameron is willing to sell off the NHS

Under The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, known as TTIP corporations can sue governments. As James Wright said this “could cement present NHS privatisation, making it very costly to reverse, while proceedings are closed off from public scrutiny in kangaroo courts”. Therefore, big business would benefit, while the rest of us lose our free healthcare service.

2. Osborne is set to sell off more public assets than any other chancellor

Cameron’s chancellor is selling off public assets as quickly as he can.

It is likely that David Cameron will have privatised more public assets upon leaving office than any prime minister in UK history. They argue that this is necessary to “balance the books”. But, this is very costly in the long-term, as the government will have to lease back the services they have previously sold off. Whereas the big businesses that buy up these services will be laughing. All thanks to Cameron and Osborne.

3. In Cameron’s Britain, it takes two days for top bosses to overtake an average person’s annual earnings

Two working days is all it takes the top chief executives in the UK to get paid more than the average person earns in a whole year- which is £27,645. ‘Average’ is based on full-time employees who’ve been in the same job for 12 months or more. FTSE 100 chief executives are paid around £4.96 million a year, according to the High Pay Centre. This inequality is getting bigger and bigger under Cameron.

4. Tories get donations from dubious business people, whilst ensuring Labour doesn’t get funding from trade unions

The government is forcing trade unions to change the way they pay into their political fund which means Labour would lose £6m a year. Trade union officials are democratically elected individuals that fight for working people.

Cameron insists on punishing trade unions while he is hellbent on receiving donations from hedge funds, property developers and companies that avoid their tax.

5. Cameron and Osborne are desperate to cut tax credits, just so the rich can get a nice tax cut

Cameron and Osborne faked a U-turn on cutting tax credits. The reason they have been so desperate to cut tax credits was because they needed to find the money to fund the cut to the top rate of tax. They are willing to allow 28,000 lowest earning members of the armed forces to lose £2,000 a year, as long as the richest get a reduced 45p tax rate.

Also, despite the fact that the UK already has the lowest corporation tax in the G20 at 20%, by 2020, it will fall to 18%. The Tories have decided working people can pay for this.

There are many more examples of Cameron, Osborne and co. putting big business ahead of British citizens. Their ideology is clear: the rich and powerful are worth more to them than the rest of us.