Lobbyists thrive by building relationships with lawmakers
Nearly 220 years after Washington penned his farewell to the nation (with the assistance of Alexander Hamilton), his advice appears to have fallen on deaf ears. In a February 5, 2015, article on Vox, an anonymous member of Congress admits that lobbyists and their special-interest money are in charge. The Representative also claims that because the two major political parties call all the shots, we have a parliament rather than a "Congress," but one without a prime minister. Also, the parties control elections via gerrymandering, they know exactly who you vote for because there is no such thing as a secret ballot, and all committees are a waste of time.
Believe it or not, it gets worse. The Congress member states that "all reasonable, self-respecting people" are so turned off by the prospect of spending half their life begging rich people for money that they refuse to run for Congress, so all we ever get are second- and third-rate party nominees. Being a politician isn't their ultimate goal, either. No, what they're really shooting for is a job as a lobbyist once they "retire" from politics. You see, lobbying is where the real power is at.
Maggie McKinley and Thomas Groll of Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics report in a February 13, 2015, post on their research into the role of lobbyists in Congress. They found that special interests spend much more money on lobbying than they do on campaign contributions. Lobbyists control the government by parlaying their well-cultivated relationships with Congress members and their staffs. They are hired guns selling their influence with policy makers to the highest bidder. They are schmooze experts, selling themselves to potential clients and to politicians simultaneously.
The researchers describe how the "relationship market" works: they know how to stay in touch with policy makers without being intrusive, and they emphasize saving politicians time by doing their work for them, creating a "gift economy" that avoids the appearance of a quid pro quo relationship. In addition to direct and indirect electoral support, the lobbyists provide legislative support "in the form of policy reports, draft statutory language, private information and data regarding constituent clients, inside political and legislative information, and lobbying support to gather cosponsors or rally defeats," according to McKinley and Groll.
Lobbyists have a built-in advantage when they compete with "citizen-donors" for the time and attention of office-holders. Because of the relationship they've cultivated with the politician, they're perceived as more trustworthy, and the information they provide more valuable. That's why lawmakers often consider time spent with a lobbyists as more beneficial than time spent with contributing constituents, especially if the constituent is a relative stranger.