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Holten: Let’s try to get some control

Who is running this country anyway? Do we have a clue? Is it the Masons, like everyone says? Or is it the Chinese, who are buying up every inch of U.S. real estate that they possibly can and lending us money hand over fist, like they are some sor...

1504483+0204 Holten Cartoon web.jpg

Who is running this country anyway? Do we have a clue?
Is it the Masons, like everyone says? Or is it the Chinese, who are buying up every inch of U.S. real estate that they possibly can and lending us money hand over fist, like they are some sort of money tree?
The real truth is it’s the lobbyists. And what is a lobbyist? They are people who represent a special interest group.
More specifically, a lobbyist is someone who tries to influence decisions made by officials in the government. They most often go after legislators and members of regulatory agencies, like prostitutes attacking conventioneers at a Las Vegas electronics show.
Meanwhile, there are only a few laws that govern what lobbyists can do in this country. First, they must be registered. Second, they must present quarterly reports about their lobbying. Third, they can only give gifts to members of Congress.
What? They can only give gifts to members of Congress? My, how limiting that is.
In other words, bribes are OK, which might be a clue as to why we can’t get anything accomplished in Washington, D.C. Our Congressmen are too busy trying to see who is going to give them the best gift for the right vote. It has to be exhausting.
Obviously, our concern here is that our government officials will fail to serve the public interest as a consequence of this lobbying by special interest groups who provide them benefits.
In other words, all you have to do is get elected, watch the lobbyists line up outside your door and rake in the cash or benefits, whichever.
Of course, to be fair, we must realize that there is another side to lobbying that is not all about corruption. For example, sometimes lobbyists can actually be effective in stopping corruption.
So, you might be surprised to learn that sometimes the minority’s interests are defended by lobbyists against the tyranny of the majority. For example, as you know, big tobacco companies, in the past, have lobbied mightily to limit smoking prevention laws. And it is only the hard work of lobbyists from medical associations that have made it possible for people to become aware of the harmful effects of smoking. So, not all lobbyists are bad. Nevertheless, they do run the system.
Now you might think that our forefathers, when penning the U.S. Constitution, had no clue that one day lobbyists might take over the world. The real truth is that they were concerned about that possibility.
In fact, at the time, James Madison, who would eventually became one of our presidents, wrote in the Federalist Papers that, “Factions can be thwarted by requiring them to compete against other factions, and therefore, the powerful force of one faction can be counteracted by another faction or factions.”
That’s a nice thought. It just doesn’t necessarily apply in the real world.
Current New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “Too often, government responds to the whispers of lobbyists before the cries of the people.”
And Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, said the average American doesn’t realize how much of the laws are written by lobbyists.
If you’re wondering when lobbying really gained ground in this country, it was apparently during the Ulysses S. Grant administration, after the Civil War and during what some people referred to as “The Gilded Age,” a period of rapid economic growth.
During the 19th century, most lobbying happened at the state level, since the federal government did not handle matters pertaining to the economy and did not do as much legislating as state governments did.
It’s a lot different now, isn’t it? The Feds are everywhere.
Whatever the case, we need to get a grip on lobbying. The problem is no one seems to know how to do so and still maintain freedom of speech.
But perhaps Will Rogers summed the whole situation up best when he said, “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”

Holten is the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. He writes a weekly column for The Dickinson Press.

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