Is Lobbying Closer To Bribery... Or Extortion?

Mike Masnick | Techdirt | April 10, 2012

from the depends-on-how-you-look-at-it dept

We've certainly talked quite a bit about the institutional-level corruption of the way Congress and lobbying works, but a recent This American Life episode, done in partnership with the Planet Money team takes a much deeper dive into how lobbying works. You absolutely should listen to it. It's really fascinating, even for folks who follow a lot of this stuff. There is also a full transcript, but hearing the whole thing is quite fascinating. Among the elements that are most interesting are the details of just how much time and effort goes into politicians raising money, and how the various fundraisers work.

But one thing that struck me in listening to it, was a comment made towards the end by (former) Senator Russ Feingold, who points out that while most people think of lobbying as bribery, they often have the picture backwards. It's extortion:

I've had conversations with Democratic givers out here in the Bay Area and I'll tell you, you wouldn't believe the requests they're getting. The opening ante is a million dollars. It's not, gee, it'd be nice if you give a million. That's sort of the baseline. This is unprecedented. And, in fact, one thing that John and I experienced was that sometimes the corporations that didn't like the system would come to us and say, you know, you guys, it's not legalized bribery, it's legalized extortion. Because it's not like the company CEO calls up to say, gee, I'd love to give you some money. It's usually the other way around. The politician or their agent who's got the Super PAC, they're the ones that are calling up and asking for the money.