When you think of Mitt Romney, you probably think of a tall, robotic fellow with no discernible strong beliefs or stances (at least, none that can survive longer than a week at a time). That's terribly unfair, and you should be ashamed for thinking it. He may have started out as an empty husk devoid of strong personal beliefs, but thanks to a crack team of industry insiders, he now is quite filled with opinions. Coincidentally, they happen to be the opinions of an army of top lobbyists in Washington, and the companies they lobby for. Funny how that works.
[Mitt Romney's] kitchen cabinet includes some of the most prominent Republican lobbyists in Washington, including Charles R. Black Jr., the chairman of Prime Policy Group and a lobbyist for Walmart and AT&T; Wayne L. Berman, who is chairman of Ogilvy Government Relations and represents Pfizer, the drug manufacturer; and Vin Weber, the managing partner for Clark & Weinstock. [...]Want to know what Mitt Romney's true policies are? Well, you should have attended Mitt Romney's $10,000-and-up policy round table, where industry lobbyists led "discussions" on what his policies towards those industries should be:
Other lobbyists serve on one of Mr. Romney’s policy advisory teams, have hosted fund-raisers for his campaign or have joined the many influential Republicans whose endorsements Mr. Romney’s campaign has hailed.
Mr. Romney’s campaign held an elaborate “policy round table” fund-raiser at a Washington hotel, featuring panel discussions run by lobbyists and former cabinet officials or members of Congress.Wow. I can't imagine why anyone would be cynical about American politics these days, can you?
James Talent, a former senator who runs the lobbying and public affairs firm Mercury Public Affairs, led a panel on infrastructure, according to an invitation. William Hansen, a former deputy secretary of education who is president of the lobbying firm Chartwell Education Group, led the education panel.
The entertaining thing about this story is just how many large companies are represented. Among those specifically mentioned (and kudos to the three reporters for linking the lobbyists with actual clients, which is rather important information for readers) are Walmart, AT&T, Pfizer (drugs), Microsoft, Altria (tobacco), General Dynamics, Dominion (power), Barclays (finance), Allegheny (steel) and Peabody Energy (coal). Lobbyists are cutting the checks; lobbyists are bundling other people's checks; lobbyists are holding the panel discussions about how the candidate can best serve the specific industries they represent; lobbyists make up the inner circle of "policy makers," advising the candidate as to what his own core positions should be.
As for the candidate himself, he's almost irrelevant at this point. You might as well nominate a bunny named Mr. Buttons: If you surround it with the exact same lobbyist-advisors, you'll end up with the exact same policies. Sigh, if only we could teach that bunny to hold a pen—but for now we'll have to settle for our current crop of Republican candidates, all of whom have near-identical policy prescriptions, all of which favor the exact same subset of people and the exact same handful of industries. Go figure.
I've given up on the notion that we can keep lobbyists from capturing our politics. I've also given up on the notion that we can prevent interests like the oil sector or our current handful of top financial companies from tailoring the American government specifically to serve their needs. Want more profits? Want less environmental protections? Want to crush some emerging industry that threatens to make yours less profitable? Just buy a few congressman, or a senator, or a president. At a few million here and there, it's cheaper than advertising, and the results are far more secure.
So I'm in the Bill Maher camp on this one. Lobbyists and industries want to buy our politicians? Fine, I give up, let them. Just pass a law saying the candidate has to wear those corporate logos on their jackets whenever they appear on the campaign trail or when they are in office. The more money is contributed, the bigger the logo has to be. Top presidential candidates will look like military dictators-in-training, with badges and medals and ribbons sticking out from them in every direction, and just from looking at them we'll be able to tell who they serve, and in what proportions. That would certainly be more educational than any rhetoric coming from the candidates themselves.