According to 2007 and 2013 Gallup polls, lobbying is the most despised profession. They are ranked below lawyers, used car salesmen, and politicians. While generally despised, lobbyists are perhaps still not loathed as much as they should be. The typical citizen probably thinks of lobbyists as somewhat shady characters lurking about the halls of government offering free lunches and campaign contributions. On occasion, a lobbyist will cross the line and attempt to buy an important vote directly. Then, there is a flurry of news stories about the scandal, after which lobbyists quietly go back to their dirty business. Citizens would despise lobbyists even more than they do if they fully understood the current role of lobbyists in government.
Lobbyists are not just promoting special interests around the edges of government. They are actually embedded in government. They participate in the functions of government in every way possible, from helping politicians get elected to helping (manipulating) them perform their jobs once elected. Lobbyists participate in the legislative and administrative processes and sometimes even write bills.
The problem can become particularly acute in states, such as Arizona, that have term limits. Under those circumstances, the senators, representatives and governors come and go, but the lobbyists stay. There is no term limit on lobbying, and lobbyists can collectively become a shadow government that chooses candidates, gets them elected, and coaches them once in office. Outnumbering legislators by about ten to one, they can overwhelm the legislative process. Eventually, they can obstruct the will of the people as they choose.
In 2015, Arizona Senate Bill 1200 provided an unfortunate example. The budget neutral bill had broad public support because it would have restored a popular K-12 science education program at absolutely no additional cost to taxpayers. All it did was transfer existing resources from a state agency that was wasting them to one that was willing and able to use them productively. Citizens contacted their senators and representatives supporting the bill, and the legislature responded to the will of the people. SB1200 received 83 yes votes out of a possible 90. There were only 5 no votes, and 2 absences. A senator not able to be present for the vote was a strong supporter, so there were a maximum of only 6 legislators out of 90 that opposed the bill. Concerned citizens also communicated with the Governor’s office in support of the bill. There were 1376 communications in support of the bill and only 5 against.
In spite of the obvious will of the people, SB1200 was vetoed. Lobbyists with access to the Governor’s staff were able to kill the bill. They prefer an alternate use for the state resources involved. They want a reception center for lobbyists and politicians rather than a K-12 science education program.
SB1200 was very minor bill relative to the overall scope of state government. How many major bills do lobbyists kill as they override the will of the people and subvert the basic functions of democracy?