Big Industry Overhauls Mean Big Bucks For Lobbyists


On the campaign trail, candidate Obama talked tough about the ways of Washington—and, in particular, the lobbyists and industry interests who made big bucks off those ways:

And as people have looked away in disillusionment and frustration, we know what's filled the void. The cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who've turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we're here today to take it back.

So the Obama administration has presumably made it tough for Washington's moneyed interests, right? Nah. This administration's biggest initiatives have, in fact, been quite good for the city's lobbyists:

The year is off to a good start for K Street, with eight of the 10 most successful lobbying shops bringing in more revenue during the first half of 2010 than during the same period last year.

The financial services overhaul, health-care legislation and the proposed climate change bill helped generate more than $128 million in lobbying revenue for these firms since the beginning of the year, with half posting double-digit gains. [bold added]

As the bold text indicates, industry-specific regulations are particularly ripe for lobbyist intervention: The more rules you make, and the more provisions you give the various business interests to fight over, the more you empower and enrich professional advocates who can get access for their clients.

There's a pretty clear contradiction here between the administration's governing strategy and its rhetoric. On one hand, Obama and his allies have put forward legislation that starts from the assumption that the government should heavily involve itself in myriad aspects of how a number of major industries (health care, the financial and energy sectors) do business. On the other hand, those same folks have, at least in their public rhetoric, been incredibly critical of lobbying and industry influence. But the legislation they've put forward has been far-reaching and complex enough that increased industry pressure and influence is more or less inevitable. You need on-the-ground industry expertise to craft the rules. You need industry buy-in to build political support. And you mess with practices that are profitable enough that it's worth it to hire armies of expensive advocates to defend them. 

If the folks in the administration want to regulate every minute aspect of a major industry, that's one thing. But I'm tired of Obama and his supporters pretending that doing so won't greatly increase the power of the Washington lobbying class in the process.