There is a little section in the New York Times, published by its editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, that I sometimes overlook — but shouldn’t. For that little section is usually very big on insightful, razor-sharp political commentary.
Yesterday’s piece, “Not-Lobbyists in Name Only,” written by David Firestone, was no exception.
Firestone discusses the fact that “Washington teems with highly paid influence peddlers who proudly disdain the title of lobbyist.” These are people who — unlike “mere lobbyists” — don’t get “their hands dirty from shaking and their loafers muddy with scandal,” but make the real money by “setting up public affairs shops, offering strategy consulting, or commissioning polls and focus groups for industries that need a big tax loophole or a government contract.”
According to Firestone, they do this by cleverly taking advantage of a gaping “20 percent loophole” in existing lobbying disclosure legislation. Existing law says lobbying reporting is only required if a lobbyist spends more than 20 percent of his or her time lobbying for any particular client. Thus, “the public can be completely in the dark about many of these ‘stealth’ lobbyists who wield tremendous influence,” says the Sunlight Foundation.
And that brings us to the present front-runner in the Republican presidential sweepstakes, a man who, according to Mike McIntire and Jim Rutenberg in yesterday’s New York Times:
… is adamant that he is not a lobbyist, but rather a visionary who traffics in ideas, not influence. But in the eight years since he started his health care consultancy, he has made millions of dollars while helping companies promote their services and gain access to state and federal officials.
Work that, according to Firestone:
…was virtually identical to that of traditional lobbyists, even extending to legislation. For his clients who wanted a piece of the growth in electronic medical records, he worked with then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on a bill to increase the use of such records, even appearing with her at a 2005 news conference.
Work and “the same twisted logic that allowed him to accept as much as $1.8 million in ‘consulting fees from Freddie Mac for eight years, while claiming he never lobbied for the mortgage company.”
Of course that man is Newt Gingrich, a man who has “managed to make millions of dollars helping companies gain access to government officials while remaining clean of the taint of being a lobbyist.”
To be fair, in discussing Newt Gingrich’s flagrant influence peddling and self-enrichment “while remaining clean of the taint of being a lobbyist,” David Firestone points out that the hypocrisy is “fully bipartisan.” He also criticizes President Obama for accepting campaign contributions from “those who help lead the lobbying industry” and laments the fact that legislation to correct such abuses has not gotten very far.
Well, here is an opportunity for the American people to, with their voices and their votes, introduce and enact their own “Lobbyist Disclosure Enhancement Act of 2012” by saying “No” to this “non-lobbyist” presently running for the highest office in the land.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.