Elizabeth Warren has already proposed strict limits on lobbyists' activities, but in her latest policy proposal, she offers a way of hitting the most aggressive lobbyists in their pocketbooks, and using the revenue to strengthen Congress and the administrative agencies' independence from corporate influence while empowering members of the public to be heard by their government and its agencies.
Under Warren's new proposal, corporations and trade organizations that spend over $500,000/year lobbying the government would have the excess expenditures taxed at rates that rise steeply from 35% (for the first $500k in excess) to 75% (for expenditures over $5m).
The revenues from this tax will be used to establish the "Lobbying Defense Trust Fund" which will pay independent expert bodies to advise Congress, such as the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, killed by Newt Gingrich in 1995. It will also fund outside experts for the administrative agencies, which have been starved of funding for expert advice, making them reliant on corporate lobbyists.
The Fund will also pay for an "Office of the Public Advocate," which "will help the American people engage with federal agencies and fight for the public interest in the rule-making process."
Warren estimates that this tax would have raised $10b over the past decade, primarily from America's most prolific lobbyists: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Koch Industries, Pfizer, Boeing, Microsoft, Walmart, and Exxon.
Of course, the purpose of the tax is to curb this activity, so one hopes that Warren is prepared to advocate to fund the outside experts and public advocate's office from the general treasury if it achieves that goal. I also suspect that Warren will need to find a way to plug the obvious loophole, which is to create networks of coordinated, small-dollar trade groups, each made up of staff who spend the $500k limit and then get furloughed so they can continue their work as temps for a nearly identical body, and then another, and another.
I am a donor to both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaigns.
Among individual companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would have owed the most of any company or trade group in lobbying taxes: an estimated $770 million on $1 billion in lobbying spending — over $400 million more than the next-highest-paying organization, the National Association of Realtors, which would have paid $307 million on $425 million in lobbying spending. Blue Cross Blue Shield, PhRMA, and the American Hospital Association would have all paid between $149 and $163 million in taxes on between $213 and $233 million in lobbying spending. And General Electric, Boeing, AT&T, Business Roundtable, and Comcast round out the top ten, paying between $105 million and $129 million in taxes.
Excessive Lobbying Tax [Elizabeth Warren/Medium]