Buying Votes Essay, Research Paper
The Legislative branch of the United States government was designed to represent citizens of this nation. Congressional members are representing the people in their district or state. Laws are supposed to be passed in the public s best interest. People attempt to influence the passing of laws through lobbyists. These people are paid to offer campaign donations and gifts to certain congressmen in return for a vote for or against specific issues. Lobbyist activity in Washington, D.C. breeds corruption and inhibits the democratic process.
Interest groups were created to gain support for certain issues. Farmers, laborers, gun control activists, abortion opponents, and teachers are just a few of the numerous interest groups in the United States. Any person is eligible to join these voluntary, private groups, which sometimes require a donation of money. Formed from these interest groups are Political Action Committees (PACs). A few top people run these groups. The main purpose of the PACs is to raise money. The money raised is passed on to Congressmen via a lobbyist. The term lobbyist was initially used several centuries ago in Great Britain in reference to journalists who waited in the lobbies of the House of Commons to interview legislators (Volkomer 114). Today, the lobbyist s job is to pass the money to representatives for a vote in their favor of a bill. Up to $5000 may be given to any one congressman by a PAC.
The most obvious downfall of this setup is that representatives would be encouraged to vote for money. In other words, if a pro-life group paid a representative to vote against legalizing abortion, the money would sway him. Whether or not a bill is passed becomes an issue of who is willing and able to pay more for it. Congressmen would look to vote for bills that would get them the most money from the PACs. Figuring the maximum $5000 is given to half of the Senate and half of the House of Representatives for passage of one bill, the total donations comes to $1,335,000. Spending for the first half of last year totaled $633 million, according to a computerized Associated Press analysis of lobbying disclosure reports (Associated Press, 8A).
Another drawback of lobbyist intervention in Washington is that it takes away from democracy. The representative is supposed to represent those who elected him. Going back to the example of the pro-life lobbyist making a campaign contribution to a representative, the harms to democracy become evident. That representative is no longer voting in favor of the people who voted him into office. Rather he is voting for those holding a certain view, even if it is not the popular view in his district. The purpose of a democracy is for the people to have an influence in the government. They elected the representative to speak for them in the government. When their representative is voting for people who pay for him to vote the way they want, then it defeats the purpose of democracy.
More indirectly, lobbyists actions harm the economy. The PACs raise money from the general public and use it to pay not only the representatives in Congress, but also to pay the lobbyist, for court fees in lawsuits, and distribution of informational material. This money is taken from the pockets of the general public and shifted to another sector of the economic system where it benefits them little. Money used to pay congressional members and lawyers could have been used in a more beneficial fashion to the public from which it came from.
Supporters of lobbyists justify their action by pointing out the fact that all the donations are recorded. Newt Gingrich went as far to say that anything is fine so long as everything is documented, thus giving much leeway to lobbyists. This view only condones improper policymaking and further encourages corruption. Gingrich, being the House Speaker, is very influential in Congress and is probably approached by a number of lobbyists. Likewise, others of influence in Congress are likely to support lobbying because they benefit directly from it. The lobbying disclosure law, which requires all donations be publicly documented, was probably used to cover the congressmen s backs, making it appear as they are in favor of strict monitoring of money and gifts. There are probably a number of gifts and donations that go unreported.
Another view of the lobbyist is that they are representing the people and getting bills passed that the people want, thus promoting the citizens role in the government. The problem with this view is that the money is getting more representation than the people are. The group that has the most money and buys the most votes will get more bills passed in their favor, regardless if they are the majority or not. Once again, this takes away from the democratic process, not allowing all the people s votes to count. Representatives should vote for those who elected him, not those who pay him the most.
A final view taken by supporters of lobbyists is that the donation does not finalize the vote of the representative. The representative still has the choice to vote in favor of the group or against. Realistically, this means that the representative would be giving up the chance to keep getting money from that lobbyist. If the representative votes against the lobbyist that he made a deal with, then that representative is not going to get any more money from him. The betrayal might cause other lobbyists to avoid that representative knowing that he might take the money and still not vote in their favor. Giving up the money possible in donations is not something that a representative would seriously do. He s going to take the money and vote in favor of that particular lobbyist in order to keep getting money from him in the future.
Those who have the most money have the most power. At least that is what the practice of lobbying seems to promote. Those who control the majority and the most expensive of the lobbyists are large corporations, giving them a great deal of influence in the bills that pass the government. Lobbying results in the passing of bills that benefit only those few, and Congress is getting paid to do it. Lobbying is a form of legalized bribery, results in selfish politics in Washington, D.C., and steals votes from the general public in favor of the rich corporations.