Obama wanted to stop the lobby, too

Lobbying in the US is as old as the republic, its function enshrined in the first amendment to the constitution guaranteeing the right of the people "to petition the government for a redress of grievances". The petitioning has turned into a massive industry that, like it or not, is an integral part of today's Washington politics. Like many of his predecessors, President Obama came to office vowing to clamp down on the lobbyists to "clean up government". Experience suggests he is unlikely to succeed.

There are tens of thousands of lobbyists, spending anywhere between $3.5bn (£2.3bn) and $10bn a year, depending on what definition is used. They even have their own nickname of "K Street", after the downtown thoroughfare where many leading firms are based.

The more complicated and far-reaching the legislation, the better the business for lobbyists. An estimated 3,000-plus were involved with the healthcare bill that Mr Obama signed into law yesterday, reckoned to be the biggest lobbying bonanza in 25 years.

The conventional image of a lobbyist is of a sleek, well-paid huckster, fattened on Martini lunches, showering members of Congress and their aides with favours of every kind – including help in rounding up campaign contributions – as they try to bend new laws to the liking of their clients in industry, business and finance. Hence the complaints that, in the US, the system is for sale to the highest bidder.

In fact these "special interests" include not only Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical companies and defence contractors – but also environmentalists, gun enthusiasts and advocates of almost every cause under the sun. The problem area is where lobbying becomes corruption. At their best lobbyists channel expert information into the legislative process. At its worst, lobbying is no more than bribery.

Very rarely, though, has it been shown that a member of Congress took money in direct return for a vote. Sometimes payback comes later, as they slip through "the revolving door" and become lobbyists themselves – naturally for much higher salaries. The process, in short, is not black and white, but countless shades of grey.

$10bn

The amount spent each year by the tens of thousands of US lobbyists.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map