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Urban Legends and Congressional Lobbyists

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Email Commentaries

Posted on June 08,2010

My mailbox overflows with comments from the people on my active mail list, and the comments from those who read my articles posted on my websites. The comments vary from agreement to the derisive. However, the most entertaining comments I receive, come from Liberals. Liberals are especially sensitive to the “Urban Legends” type of emails that I forward occasionally. Addressing the comments about urban legends is the most vexing to do because some of those emails that we all receive are not authentic; meaning that they are either outright lies or their contents have no value. Those that are untrue and written only to demean and cause harm to an entity should be rejected.

But there is another type of email that is written purely for illustrative purposes and use a bit of hyperbole to make a point – these are generally political in nature. Read the text of the following email I received from a correspondent:

Bar Stool Economics

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

  • The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
  • The fifth would pay $1.
  • The sixth would pay $3.
  • The seventh would pay $7.
  • The eighth would pay $12.
  • The ninth would pay $18.
  • The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do. The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve. He said, "Since you are all such good customers, I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20. Drinks for the ten now cost just $80."

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes, so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men -- the paying customers?

How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his "fair share"? They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33.

But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay!

And so:

  • The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
  • The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
  • The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
  • The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
  • The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
  • The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

"I only got a dollar out of the $20," declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, "but he got $10!"

Yeah, that's right,' exclaimed the fifth man. I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than I!

"That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all.. The system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up any more. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

David R. Kamerschen,
Ph.D. Professor of Economics, University of Georgia

You will notice: It is signed by a professor supposedly from the University of Georgia. I have no idea whether the man exists or if the incident cited really happened – it doesn’t make any difference. This email clearly illustrates the futility of Liberalism. I’m not sure if it could be classified as a parable, but it clearly illustrates the technical truth about wealth distribution and just how much the wealthy pick up the tab in America.

One of the few Liberal correspondents that bothers to read my emails wrote back an insulting comment about this being an urban legend and that ‘Snopes’ was unable to verify the incident. And because the incident couldn’t be verified the reader discounted the real message that was inherent in the writing. I was accused by this person of being a conduit for rightwing lies. It is beyond my understanding why a person only sees the superficial. Such shallow mindedness does not serve a person well. When a viewpoint is so narrow, the person holding that perspective runs the risk of becoming ignorant.

Just because a written piece doesn’t conform to a pre-existing notion doesn’t mean that the piece has no value. A person should try and glean both the motivation of the author and whether or not the piece illustrates a cogent point. And, it shouldn’t matter whether or not the reader agrees or not. Those pieces written, whether true or not, can also point to the understanding other people have about the world we live in. Those emails would not be forwarded without the implied agreement by the forwarder. When one of those passed around emails resonates with a reader, it motivates he/she into forwarding it.

Another incident I recently encountered was about a piece that I forwarded with the text of a speech by Senator Jim DeMint along with a link to DeMint’s video posting of the speech. Most feedback was positive, but I got this one curious response from a friend. I know this friend to be very intelligent and I have enormous respect for his opinions. His response to the speech by DeMint:

“This is almost funny. Conservatives are finally starting to realize that our government is serving some mysterious master who is writing the bills for them. FYI, the mysterious master is corporate lobbyists, and liberals have been complaining about this forever.

This has nothing to do with Obama; this kowtowing to corporate lobbyists has been going on for decades.
I agree that "throw the bums out" won't fix this. What's needed is public financing of campaigns, so our legislators (and president) won't be beholden to campaign donors.”

Never one to be lost for words about anything that I send out, but on this occasion that response had me dumbfounded. I responded very weakly in a personal email. He does bring up a good point about lobbyist that I would like to expand upon.

The act of being able to petition the government for grievances is protected by the constitution. We are free to solicit relief either in person or hire an intermediary on our behalf. The petitioner can be an individual, state, or business.

It is the professional intermediary that was the focus of the comments by my friend. Professional Lobbyists are well paid by their clients because of the results they produce.

Below the Surface: If a professional lobbyist is to be successful, the lobbyist must produce favorable results for his clients. Lobbyists do not operate in a vacuum. A lobbyist must have contacts that are able to affect legislation. Maintaining his contacts is a very important part of being a lobbyist. The successful lobbyist grooms his contacts (the politicians) and maintains relationships with his contacts so that the lobbyist can have access whenever he needs it on behalf of a client. The process isn’t perfect and congress has been making adjustments to the rules for lobbying for years.

But as the course of events meander through the valley, it turns out that congress needs the lobbyist for their own purposes. It is a broad two way street that has the lobbyists’ needs in one lane and congressional needs in the other. Our congressional representatives deal with thousands of issues on a daily basis. Congress needs information about proposals that they have to deal with. They turn to the lobbyists with their questions about the proposal that needs a decision.

There are lobbyists for just about everything that goes on in America. So when a congress person needs information about an industry, he calls on the lobby for that particular industry. The professional lobbyists are a window into the soul of America. Lobbyists represent both the ideas and the products of their clientele. You might say that the lobbyists act as a reference book to the congress.

It is reasonable to assume that elected officials cannot know everything he/she needs to know about a given subject. For instance, when analog television went away – replaced by digital, there was an immediate freeing up of bandwidth. A lot of competition for that bandwidth ensued. Judgments about how to distribute that bandwidth had to be made. Making the decision on how to distribute that bandwidth was a result of knowledge gained from the hired lobbyists of the competing factions. If we didn’t have lobbyists supplying that information, it would be an army of “experts”. An army of experts would be just as corruptible as the lobbyist. Anybody advising a political person of power will have influence. That influence comes from having access and the ear of the politician.

Politicians also abuse the lobbyists. As my friend aptly put it, the need for campaign funds is a never ending quest. Money is the mother’s milk of politics. So a politician will work both ends against the middle. They will make proposals intended to stir up the clients of the lobbyists and just about guarantee campaign donations to take one side or the other on the proposal. Those types of proposals are only feints and never intended to become law, just a dig to get campaign funds.

Congress, more than anybody is responsible for the lobbyist problem. Congress gets to decide, and do decide the winners and losers of our corporate world. Corporations are left no choice but to hire lobbyists out of self defense. It is a vicious circle and there is plenty of corruption to go around on both sides of the fence.

Jack Abramoff is probably the poster boy for a corrupt lobbyist. His exposure revealed a lot of politicians who were also guilty of wrongdoing. But more than anything, what was exposed was the weakness of character of our elected officials. I more or less expect lobbyists to try and maintain their influence over the politicians, but what I do not expect is our elected representatives allowing their quest for political power and personal enrichment to interfere with their jobs. – But it happens and continues to happen.

The one point that I disagree with my friend is the solution to the problem. He suggests public financing for the campaigns. I personally believe that any such attempt would just turn into another boondoggle. Putting more public money in the hands of politicians is just a recipe for disaster and corruption.

As for the other comment by my friend, yes the Democrats have made a lot of noise about lobbyists. But that is only cover. They make sure the welcome mat is rolled out to the lobbyists and have taken no real action to prevent the corruption. The Republicans only held sway in the Congress for very few years compared to the Democrats reign. The Democrats have held the congress since 2006 and have done nothing. They have a super-majority and can pass anything – but they don’t. They make a lot of noise for political cover, but that’s about it.

Politicizing and demonizing the lobbyists may be fashionable and an easy target. But lobbyists would not gain any ground if the congress had the character to quit trying to decide on who and what business gets what. The actions by the congress only fertilize the ground for making sure that the lobbying community thrives.


Addendum: As a courtesy to my friend whose email I quoted, I sent him a pre-release version of this article. His comments are below:

“A few comments: I wasn't trying to "demonize the lobbyists" but was rather deploring the influence that corporations (thru lobbyists) have over our lawmakers. There is often a conflict of interest between what would benefit a corporation, and what is in the best interest of the public. Also, our congressmen have staffs who are supposed to do research on the effects of laws they pass; they shouldn't be dependant on lobbyists for expert advice.”

Noted: The staffers do indeed do the research, but their main source for details about products, and a feel for the size and scope of the relief sought by the petitioners on a piece of legislation comes from – the lobbyists.

The answer to the problem, quite simply, is for congress to stop trying to shape legislation to suit a particular industry or individual. At the Federal level, all legislation should be designed for the benefit of all. If exceptions are needed in a legislative act, then the act itself should be scrapped. That Utopian statement being said, the only defense any individual, business, or state have is the right to petition for relief from damaging legislation. Hence, we have the lobbying trade.

The congress by all means should keep a wary eye out for the abusers of the privilege and weed them out like they were tending a garden. Real punishments, publically meted out, would be a warning to the future Jack Abramoff’s of the world.

In conclusion: I leave you with a quote from Dick Morris that seems to fit nicely with the public mood. As we, the public, learn more about the viciousness and shady dealings that are commonplace in Washington, we recoil in disbelief. Here is Dick’s statement regarding the legislative process: ---

“While conservatives rail at Obama's socialist policies and his health care legislation, most voters of any ideological stripe are revolted by the insight into the legislative process we have all been afforded. We have watched, in Bismark's words, "a sausage being made and a law being passed" and are turned off by the sight."
Dick Morris



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Robert Gross

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