Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why didn't I become a paid lobbyist?

MY FATHER WANTED me to be a doctor. He had his reasons. Two of his brothers were physicians. Furthermore, he believed my grandmother would add me to the list of M.D.'s in the family by paying for my tuition. It was a formidable incentive for him to guide me to medical school someday. When I turned down that presumed benefit, he thought it would also work with Grandma if we told her I would study to become a lawyer. I finally persuaded the few members of my family who even cared about my future that I wanted to be a writer of some sort.

It was a tough call. My mother even mentioned to my high school English teacher that I hoped to work for a newspaper someday. "Is that good?" she asked, quite puzzled about my direction in life. He took a non-committal wait-and-see attitude to avoid offending anyone.

Now, I think I was wrong. Instead of newspaper work, I should have decided to become a lobbyist. In these lean times, lobbying is a well-paid growth industry in which you can even put your movie popcorn on your expense account. These insiders are everywhere at the national and state levels.

I was again reminded of this a few days ago when I read that the pols on the "supercommittee" that will look for budget cuts in defense and health care once employed nearly 100 aides who now work as lobbyists for General Electric and other defense contractors as well as the health-care industry. The high rollers cover themselves well to make sure that nobody takes a bite from their apples.

While reading Reckless Endangerment, New York Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson's and financial analyst Joshua Rosner's inside look at Wall Street, the home mortgage industry and all of the culprits that brought down the economy, it was scary to learn how all the moving parts enriched so many people at the top and destroyed so many others at the bottom. The book's subtitle is, How outsized ambition, greed and corruption led to economic Armageddon, and upon reading the authors' argument, you might conclude that the title was the kindest thing you could say about the book's targets.

Among the evil-doers are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two private but government sponsored companies that manipulated a gold rush of home mortgages from banks to fashion a pyramid of treasure before they tumbled. But this piece was about lobbyists. So we must turn to James Johnson, Fannie Mae's chief executive in the the 90s, an influential super power in the mortgage business with both political parties who stacked the deck against the competition. As the authors tell us, Johnson personally realized $100 million in the 9 years that he enjoyed the lofty position. He was so adept at the game with Fannie Mae's "army of lobbyists" that he even paid lobbyists not to lobby against it. (My emphasis.)

In Ohio, the arrival of John Kasich brought in new crew of registered lobbyists - 375, the Plain Dealer recently reported. The paper added that today's roster has about 1,500 members, including Summit County Republican chairman Alex Arshinkoff, whose close ties to the governor has paid off handsomely for him.

Of course I'm jealous and wonder why I never thought of cashing in on this rich employment market much earlier in life instead of being content to play the piano in night clubs and at weddings while writing awful essays. Who knows? As Brando lamented in On the Waterfront, "I could have been somebody" when I walked into the governor's office before heading to the watering hole to buy everybody a drink. Who knows? Rats! Too late, now!


Anonymous said...

It's an absolute shame that the former janitor now serving as the Summit GOP chair can swindle taxpayer money for lobbying on behalf of a university he couldn't even finish a degree. Couldn't they have found someone with a background in higher education?

PJJinOregon said...

Abe - You'd never make it as a lobbyist. You have one trait no lobbyist has - integrity.

Grumpy Abe said...

Thanks PJ. But, alas, integrity and $1.95 these days will only get you a cup of coffee.

David Hess said...

Not only do the banks, big corporations and other special pleaders spend millions to lobby Congress, state legislators, and federal and state regulators to gain tax breaks and subsidies, they write off the lobbying expenses as costs of doing business and suck revenue from the governments they buy. No wonder we're running big deficits, while neglecting our infrastructure, laying off our teachers, and standing by in astounding frustration as Congress continues to kowtow to their demands and campaign contributions