For more than a decade, corporate America's lobbying budget has exceeded the entire budget for the operation of both houses of Congress, and this year's lobbying spend ($2.6B) is the largest in history, with no end in sight.
It's not a case of corporations lobbying to keep abreast of their foes from trade unions and civil society, either: corporate lobbying outspends trade unions and activist groups by 34 to 1.
The gradual but relentless increase in corporate lobbying has effected a phase-change in the goals of corporate America: while the early lobbyists largely fought against regulation, the new generation fights for regulation that benefits their business sector paymasters. The more of this they attain, the richer their bosses get, and the more lobbying they can afford. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It's this transformation from anti-regulation to pro-special-favors that has made believers out of American industry. While lobbying was once seen as a necessary evil, it's now viewed as a strategic essential and a smart, good investment.
Those lobbyists would go on to spend the 1980s teaching companies about the importance of political engagement. But it would take time for them to become fully convinced. As one company lobbyist I interviewed for my new book, The Business of America Is Lobbying, told me, "When I started [in 1983], people didn't really understand government affairs. They questioned why you would need a Washington office, what does a Washington office do? I think they saw it as a necessary evil. All of our competitors had Washington offices, so it was more, well we need to have a presence there and it's just something we had to do."
To make the sell, lobbyists had to go against the long-entrenched notion in corporate boardrooms that politics was a necessary evil to be avoided if possible. To get corporations to invest fully in politics, lobbyists had to convince companies that Washington could be a profit center. They had to convince them that lobbying was not just about keeping the government far away—it could also be about drawing government close.
As one lobbyist told me (in 2007), "Twenty-five years ago… it was 'just keep the government out of our business, we want to do what we want to,' and gradually that's changed to 'how can we make the government our partners?' It's gone from 'leave us alone' to 'let's work on this together.'" Another corporate lobbyist recalled,"When they started, [management] thought government relations did something else. They thought it was to manage public relations crises, hearing inquiries… My boss told me, you've taught us to do things we didn't know could ever be done."
How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy
[Lee Drutman/The Atlantic]
(via Naked Capitalism)