Saturday, July 9, 2011

Of Openness And Lobbying

The Dakota War College comments about "hopes" that South Dakota can develop an on-line database containing information on lobbyists.  DWC regular MC quotes an Argus Leader story,
"Lobbying is a great way for legislators to become informed about issues, and they do rely on them quite a bit. It's important to understand which interests are trying to influence the legislation," Quist said.
For the record the Argus article identifies "Pete Quist [as the] lead researcher for the National Institute on Money in State Politics."

MC correctly observes, "This on-line, searchable database to be open to the public can only help the process.  It is always good to know who supports what."  Openness in government is always welcome.

MC and Quist confuse me, however, with the assertions that "[l]obbying is a great way for legislators to become informed about issues" and "there [are] alot of bills that get put in the hopper every year, I can see how lobbying can help legislators understand who will [benefit] or suffer from any bill."

First, South Dakota's legislators have access to the South Dakota Legislative Research Council staff who are hired to
Provide technical assistance to legislators in a nonpartisan manner 
  • Answer questions and advise legislators in assigned subject areas 
  • Stay knowledgeable of state and federal statutes and rules in assigned subject areas 
  • Respond to information requests from legislators
Further, I've heard about these things called Google, Bing, and the Internet.  Apparently, these tools help people get information about nearly anything by typing a few relevant words in something called a search box.

Most importantly, the people most often hurt by legislation cannot afford to travel to Pierre nor do they have a lobbyist to advocate their interests.

In short, "providing information" seems to be a euphemism for "old boys network" or "protect our interests."  At my most cynical, I'd even contend that the phrase is code for "how can we best screw over our political opponents?"

MC concludes his post with an important question: "I have to wonder how much power do lobbyists [yield] in the [legislature], [compared] to the average citizen or even a elected legislator."

The indefatigable Cory Heidelberger comments,
MC, I think the answers to your closing questions are obvious. If lobbyists didn’t have more influence than the regular citizen, special interests wouldn’t pay them the big bucks to camp out in Pierre all session long.
I tend to agree with Cory's belief that corporations and other special interests would not hire lobbyists if lobbyists didn't provide a return on investment.  On the other hand, the education lobby's spectacular failures during recent legislative sessions illustrates the limits of lobbying.

Legislators seem to have a certain stubbornness that makes them immune to some lobbyists.  That stubborness makes me wonder if the more important question is who's supporting the legislator during the election and who's giving campaign contributions.  In addition to the lobbyist database, voters might benefit from knowing who gives financial support to the candidate before going to the polls.


caheidelberger said...

On the seeming failure of the education lobby: I recall a veteran teacher telling me he wouldn't contribute to the SDEA because it backed Janklow when he was governor. He cited a tendency of the organization to play nice with the powers that be and seek a safe middle ground. I wonder: does the education lobby go all out for its side the way the corporate lobbyists do for theirs? And does it have the resources to wage such a campaign?

LK said...

Good questions. I haven't looked at my dues statement in a while, so I don't know the amount per member. Some of the dues are designated for lobbying, and the SDEA office is across the street from the capitol, so access should not be a problem.

I think SDEA lobbyists may be willing to go all in, but I'm not sure teachers as group have the stomach for a bitter political fight.

Also, SD teachers as a group may lean Democratic, but it's a myth that teachers are a Democratic monolith. A good number will vote for Daugaard or your own Russ Olson next time. That limits SDEA's efforts as well.