CORPORATE POWER (Part 3): LOBBYING AND THE REVOLVING DOOR

Here’s issue #23 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 3/15/12. This issue examines how corporations influence our government and its policies through lobbying and the “revolving door.”

Corporate influence on government actions and policies occur through campaign contributions (see Newsletters #13 – 17), lobbying, and the “revolving door” where personnel often cycle back and forth between working in government and working for a corporation for which they had an oversight responsibility in their government position.

Lobbying and the revolving door are two key pieces of the puzzle of how corporations have such strong influence. Corporate personnel and their lobbyists build strong personal relationships with Congress people, their staffs, and government agency personnel. Here are examples of how these relationships are built and operate:

  • Corporations, their executives, and their lobbyists:
    • Provide electoral support to Congress people through campaign contributions, solicitation of donors, political action committees (PACs), and Super PAC expenditures.
      • $3.4 billion in campaign contributions between 2007-2010 (see Newsletter #17)
      • $774 million in 2010 from 26,783 wealthy individuals (see Newsletter #14)
    • Provide information and persuasionto Congress people, their staffs, and government agencies, through lobbying, including expertise, position papers, and draft legislation.
      • $3.3 billion in total lobbying expenditures in 2011 with 12,633 registered lobbyists, over 23 lobbyists per member of Congress [1]
      • $476 million spent on lobbying by 30 large corporations between 2008 and 2010 [2]
    • Go to work for Congress or government agencieswhere they have power and influence, which may benefit, directly or indirectly, their previous employer.
      • Obama’s 3 chiefs of staff all previously worked in the financial sector: Jacob Lew at Citigroup, Bill Daley at JPMorgan Chase, and Rahm Emmanuel at Wasserstein Perella [3]
      • Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is the former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY. Hank Paulson, head of Goldman Sachs, was Treasury Secretary under Bush and Robert Rubin, co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, was Secretary under Clinton. Other Treasury Secretaries in these administrations were the CEO of CSX Corp. and the CEO of Alcoa. [4]

On the other side of the revolving door, people leave government positions and go to work for the corporations (or their lobbying firms) that they oversaw or regulated while in government. As a result of all these relationships and interconnections, corporations receive:

  • Friendly legislation from Congress such as laws governing corporate practices, regulation, taxes, competition, trade, etc.
  • Accommodating regulations and oversight from government agencies and even outright support at times, such as the recent bailout of financial firms.
  • Inside information. For example, multiple sources document multiple instances where Treasury Secretary Paulson shared inside government information with his former employer, Goldman Sachs. [5]

There are many, many examples of the results of corporate influence on government actions and policies; a few have been highlighted in previous newsletters:

  • Failure to regulate speculation in oil and gasoline markets (see Newsletter #22)
  • Lax regulation and oversight of the financial industry (see Newsletters #21 and #19)
  • Low effective tax rates for many corporations (see Newsletter #2) and low tax rates for high income individuals (see Newsletters #21, #8, and #7)
  • Failure to regulate health threats such as mercury emissions and the use of antibiotics to enhance growth of healthy farm animals (see Newsletter #20)
  • High levels of spending that benefit corporations such as military contractors and that seem impossible to cut (see Newsletter #5)

These are only highlights and examples of corporate influence; future newsletters will highlight others, but the full story takes books to tell and involves many corporations and industries. The outsized influence corporations wield in our democracy was of great concern and impact before the Citizens United decision, which now allows unlimited corporate spending in our election campaigns. With unlimited corporate campaign spending now unleashed, our democracy, and government of, by, and for the people, is truly at risk.


[1]       The Center for Responsive Politics, retrieved 3/7/12, “Lobbying database,” http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/index.php

[2]       Public Campaign, Dec. 2011, “For hire: Lobbyists or the 99%? How corporations pay more for lobbyists than in taxes,” publicampaign.org/reports/forhire

[3]       Moyers, B., & Winship, M., 1/24/12, “The Washington – Wall Street revolving door just keeps spinning along,” http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/01/24-3

[4]       Wikipedia, retrieved 3/13/12, “US Secretary of the Treasury,” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Secretary_of_the_Treasury

[5]       Moyers and Winship, see above

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