When Government Lobbies Government for More Government

For all their harrumphing about the evils of corporate influence-peddling, left-wing demagogues are willfully blind to the biggest influence-seekers in state and federal capitols.


Liberal politicians are shocked—shocked, I tell you—to find gambling going on in a gambling house, or to find that lobbying is going on in the U.S. Capitol.

"The rich and the powerful have been calling the shots in Washington forever and ever," said presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. She's proposed an "anti-corruption" package that would impose as much as a 75-percent tax rate on corporations that spend millions on lobbying.

Railing against corporate lobbyists is common sport among populists. It's easy to understand the tendency. Whenever I go to the state Capitol, I see lobbyists, huddled in the lobbies outside the hearing rooms, wearing stylish suits and following the fate of bills that were crafted by their attorneys and presumably pitched to lawmakers over cigars on a Sacramento steakhouse patio.

In reality, lobbying is just part of the ugly sausage-making process. It's no sleazier than the process of running for election or the insider game that takes place in the bowels of some regulatory agency, where bureaucrats—presumably wearing less fashionable attire—craft rules that govern how we live. The real problem is that government is so massive and powerful that it forces companies to defend themselves and also attracts favor seekers.

For all their harrumphing about the evils of corporate influence-peddling, left-wing demagogues such as Warren are amazingly—perhaps willfully—blind to the biggest influence-seekers in state and federal capitols. I'm referring to government agencies. "The money spent on lobbying by government agencies—cities, counties, school districts, water agencies, even rent control boards across the Golden State—consistently ranks at or near the top of the heap," according to a KQED report.

It's a big problem at the local level, too. The League of California Cities, one of those powerful Sacramento-based government interest groups that spends big on statehouse lobbying, held a training academy at a recent conference in Long Beach.

One of its sessions taught local government officials how to "generate critical revenues to address city needs" by "carrying out a local ballot measure campaign." The program encouraged cities to launch these campaigns – and provided detailed information on how to craft the ballot measures, conduct polling and create the right messaging. For instance, it taught them to pitch these measures as a way to protect public services rather than as tax hikes.

So, a government-funded interest group is "educating" government officials how to run a political campaign to convince voters to raise taxes. This is done on the public dime. Cities even hire consulting groups to run the process. "It sounds exactly like a campaign," said Newport Beach Mayor Pro Tem Will O'Neill. "They poll ahead of time. They draft the ballot and draft the educational materials. Some cities put the election information in utility bills."

Isn't this essentially lobbying? I asked. "It isn't essentially lobbying. They are lobbyists," O'Neill added. In 2018, he sponsored a City Council resolution prohibiting public money from being spent on tax increases, but so far Newport Beach is the only city to pass it. It's allowable under the guise of education, but he's right that officials who attend such seminars should be held accountable by voters. "Hopefully there will at least be a seminar in the future about how to operate a city within actual budgets," he added.

A lot of private lobbying is a form of government lobbying, too. Top lobbyists include public-sector unions, which are funded by people who work for the government. At the local level, these unions use concerns about overcrowded classrooms and crime to arm-twist for higher taxes, even if the extra dollars end up funding their pensions. The most influential state lobbyists include utilities, which are a creation of government, and the healthcare industry, which is dominated by government.

You might say, "thank heavens for the initiative process, where the people can bypass the sleaze and vote directly on laws that affect them." Not so fast. That was the goal of the Progressive-era reformers, such as Gov. Hiram Johnson, who created California's initiative, referendum, and recall. Johnson said they "give to the electorate the power of action when desired, and they do place in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves." However, lobbyists – including government lobbyists – dominate that process, too.

Statewide initiatives, including multibillion-dollar bond measures, often are the product of government-related interests that fund measures that provide them with more money. Take a look at the Secretary of State website at the funders of statewide and local bond measures and you'll see that the millions they dump into the campaign can pay off handsomely.

Corporate lobbying may be concerning, but at least companies are spending private dollars and many of their efforts are defensive. If populists were serious about standing up against vested interests, they should forbid government from lobbying government for more government. But Warren and others clearly want a limitless government, so their anti-corruption campaigns really are nothing more than grandstanding.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

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  1. It’s not all “left-wing demagogues” that agitate for bigger Government Almighty… How about right-wing demagogues like Donald Trump? He can take money allocated for specific military purposes (like replacing badly aged, decayed infrastructure, including buildings, on military bases) by Congress, and, like an Emperor NOT restrained by the US Constitution, just go and arbitrarily move the funds to wall-building instead! Then next year, Trump can holler about MORE spending for the badly-decayed military! (And divert it again to MORE wall-building?!?!)

    Thanks, right-wing demagogues!!!

    1. Your life has no value

    2. Is that ALL you got? Crying about $5B out of a $717B Defense Budget. P.S. The president Vetoing the budget bill isn’t “UN-Constitutional”. Congress allowed The President to shift allocation of the budget. You have nothing legitimate there — nothing at all.

  2. It is confounding how those who rail against monopolies and corruption want to use the biggest and most corrupt monopoly of all time — government — to rein in competitive businesses by making them government-regulated monopolies.

    Cognitive dissonance is an understatement. It’s right there in plain sight — they are control freaks who want to mind everybody else’s business. But voters refuse to see it, and the only possible explanation is that they’d rather take their chances on a bigger government with their side in control than a smaller government run by the other side.

    It reminds me of hands gripping a baseball bat higher and higher. Everyone knows that the last person wins, yet everybody keeps playing anyway. Do people not understand that the last person to win control of government is usually the first one to lose his head in the inevitable revolution?

    1. But by then they’re likely as not cutting the head off a corpse.

    2. They think every individual should sell their own souls to the [WE] foundation and become enslaved robots to free-willy democracy.

  3. This is the problem with the “political advertising” ban Twitter’s talking about, as illustrated by the California teacher who sued over her union dues being used for political purposes under the argument that all public sector union spending is political. If you’re arguing that teachers should be paid more, well, where is that money to come from? Are we going to raise taxes? Cut spending somewhere else in the school budget? Pay cops and firemen less? Fire half the teachers, double the remaining teachers’ pay and workload? These are all public policy questions, they’re not politically neutral viewpoints. In a world where the personal is political, what ads – even “for the children” feel-good government advocacy ads – can possibly be pure enough to avoid a claim of political bias? Got a black guy, two women, a kid in a wheelchair and girl with a nose piercing in the ad? You’re pandering to the leftist PC crowd. Don’t have those things? White supremacist dog-whistling.

  4. I do find it hilarious that companies want Warren in office. The very people she threatens in public know that she would be in their back pocket.

    I’d laugh harder but I fall for the same shit when republicans talk about debt

    1. Now that she has somewhat of a plan to pay for her VA Care for all, they may change their minds.

  5. “”When Government Lobbies Government for More Government””

    Insert Oscar Wilde quote.

  6. Government lobbying for more government? Well I never! Next you’ll be saying government has a corrupting influence on private sector incentives as much as vice-versa!
    DOES….NOT…..COMPUTE!!!! ILLOGICAL! ILLOGICAL! ILLOGICAL! (*Head explodes) Sorry, you see I’m in California and….well….yeah that’s pretty much the reaction you’d get here

    1. LOL… Are you saying California is Liberal or something 🙂

  7. “When Government Lobbies Government for More Government”

    Is this about the pub-sec union negotiations?

  8. Lobbyists exist because regulations exist. The more intrusive the regulations, the more ambitious the lobbyists. As someone with experience in the New York City lobbying scene, there is one fundamental truth underlying the entire dynamic between the lobbyist and government: the lobbyists are former bureaucrats or lawyers asking their still-employed-in-government bureaucrat or lawyer buddies to cut their clients a break because … you name it.

    1. Same with corruption. The more the government regulates the more useful it is to influence their actions, legally or illegally. And it’s worse the more concentrated the loci of power become. It’s a waste of time and money to bribe or lobby someone powerless.

      That’s why you can’t regulate your way out of these issues. Any regulatory body overseeing lobbying or pursuing corruption is susceptible to the same. I mean, there are a few ways to put pressure on the bad actors, but big governments will always have these issues.

  9. ” impose as much as a 75-percent tax rate on corporations that spend millions on lobbying.”

    Let’s not forget lobbying takes 2 to tango – one to offer the money and them other to accept.
    In this case the person accepting usually still had to make the corrupt vote.

    Yet Warren treats them as the victim

    1. Warren expects us to believe a rich, over educated privledged honky bitch like her is a victim so that’s not unexpected.

  10. Minus all the hobnobbing, “The real problem is that government is so massive and powerful that it forces companies to defend themselves and also attracts favor seekers.”

    GOV control of ALL healthcare = Endless Healthcare Companies lobbying GOV for business. How about instead of the [WE] foundation choosing my healthcare for me; I’ll choose it for myself!!!

  11. If populists were serious about standing up against vested interests, they should forbid government from lobbying government for more government.

    Well, in California, with its initiative process, how about someone starting an initiative to do exactly that?

    1. “But… If Uncle Sam can’t pick up his free check from ‘greedy peoples anonymous’ how am I going to leach off of him?”, says far too many Californians.

      Anyone ( mini-print — except ‘greedy peoples anonymous’ ) has a RIGHT to lobby government and that includes Uncle Sam.

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