published Monday, June 6th, 2011

The lobbyist dollars flow

You may have read — with a certain unease — that an array of special interests shelled out millions of dollars this year to try to persuade our state lawmakers in Nashville to vote one way or the other on all sorts of bills.

Besides all their other spending, different companies and organizations spent well over half a million dollars on just 75 breakfast, lunch and dinner receptions for lawmakers, the Times Free Press reported recently. And even those figures are on the low side, because the numbers were reported several weeks before the legislative session ended. The true amount spent will undoubtedly be a good bit higher when final totals come in.

So, do you think lobbyists are spending that money out of “the goodness of their hearts,” or do you think, more realistically, that they hope to get something for their time and money? We suspect it’s usually the latter.

Of course, businesses, advocacy groups and other organizations have a constitutional right to speak up on behalf of their interests. And unfortunately, sometimes they don’t dare remain silent. All too often, companies are put in a position of having to fend off bad legislation that might, for instance, impose burdensome taxes or regulations on them. We can understand, in those situations, why they may hire lobbyists to educate both lawmakers and the general public about the dangers of a particular piece of legislation. They don’t want their business harmed by unwise legislation.

And, by the same token, lobbyists may be hired not just to head off a bad bill but to promote worthy legislation in the General Assembly. It was encouraging, for example, that Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation this year to put a reasonable cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury lawsuits. While there should be full compensation for actual economic losses resulting from someone’s wrongful actions, out-of-control awards of noneconomic damages may not serve the cause of justice. And yet that worthwhile reform of lawsuits did not happen all by itself. Lobbying pressure from various business groups helped bring it about. So at times, lobbying can help accomplish good things.

Still, most Tennesseans and most Americans in general probably are uncomfortable with the thought of lawmakers being “wined and dined” by organizations that have a clear stake in a particular piece of legislation. There is the obvious, and at times sadly justified, concern that there may be actual promises by a lawmaker to vote a certain way in exchange for the support of an organization.

The best way to fight undue influence — without unconstitutionally limiting the free speech rights of businesses or advocacy organizations — is to have clear disclosure of who spent how much on whom. That allows the public to decide whether a lawmaker is being improperly influenced by lobbyists and special interests.

We freely admit that is not a perfect solution, but it is better than violating our Constitution’s First Amendment by silencing political speech.

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EaTn said...

Great article. Total disclosure of lobbyist time and money spent with state legislatures and their election campaigns should be welcomed by any honest politician in Nashville.

June 6, 2011 at 6:20 a.m.
SeaMonkey said...

i agree 100%. real transperency is what's needed. not just words. both parties need to reform. good luck calling for reform in washington, though.....it's thoroughly corrupt. both parties sicken me with their waste of time and money...our money.

June 6, 2011 at 7:22 a.m.
chet123 said...

How did we come to this???? Shame!Shame!Shame!

June 6, 2011 at 8:01 a.m.
Plato said...

I agree 100% with this editorial :)

June 6, 2011 at 9:21 a.m.
Leaf said...

So, as long as it's disclosed, it's OK to bribe politicians? That's ridiculus, and it's just a talking point invented by these same lobbyists. Especially when all "disclosure" will mean is a cryptic entry on a giant spreadsheet that isn't well publicised.

Also, this article presupposes that everyone who is affected by laws has a war chest of millions that allows them equal bribe-time with lawmakers. That is so patently false that I have to call "pants-on-fire" on this editorial.

Does anyone really honestly believe that our Democratic process wouldn't be better off without millions of dollars flowing into Congress from lobbyists?

Doctors used to get wined and dined by drug company reps and congress passed laws to stop it, but they don't seem to be able to hold themselves to the same standard.

June 6, 2011 at 10:25 a.m.

The only group without a lobby is the American People.

If we were to outlaw lobbying, the government would once again become a semblance of a republic.

June 6, 2011 at 11:44 a.m.
hambone said...

So, who was lobbying to do away with collective bargaining for teachers? The students? The parents? Who?

June 6, 2011 at 3:41 p.m.
sage1 said...

There are hundreds of organizations that employ lobbyist to fight for their cause in the political arena. While individually we are NOT represented, by supporting an organization that is on your side of the issue of your concern, you ARE represented.

June 6, 2011 at 4:13 p.m.
chet123 said...

LIBERTARIAN...in 2007 there were 17,000 lobbyist located in washington D.C....many of your politician work for them after their terms are up(NewtGingrich)..this is a serious problems...have you ever heard of QUID PRO QUO...to put it simple...you scratch my back...and i will scratch yours...now where do the American people fit in...THEY DONT! You ask the question are they not supported by American...BRO YOU CANT BE THAT DUMB!...MONEY HAVE NO COLOR OR ETHNICITY!...you do all that writing and "never cut to the chase"... why do you put yourself in a position to be a traitor...bro....you could never be a democrat..what have happen to the republican party...too many Rush Limbaugh want a be have destroyed a one time respectable party

June 6, 2011 at 7:04 p.m.
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