Does lobbying represent a corrupt special interest, a neutral force, or a beneficial component of democracy in Washington, DC? George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley defended lobbying as a beneficial part of Madisonian political competition in a May speech at GWU.
“In fact the lobbyists fit within the Madisonian view. Lobbyists are perfect,” Prof. Turley argued, later continuing, “That’s a good thing because it allows factional interests to be expressed clearly and effectively in Congress and what you have to do is try to make sure every one has that ability to influence Congress.”
(Of course, the panel held immediately prior to his talk wasn’t exactly neutral. The first panel, arranged by the Forum on Ethics & Leadership in Public Life was entitled “Is There Really a Lobbyist Problem?” and consisted of four speakers currently or formerly employed in lobbying or intimately connected to Congress). During his lecture, Prof. Turley condemned the Supreme Court’s differentiation between “lobbying speech” and public or political speech as “unsustainable” and the Obama administration’s new requirements for lobbyists, saying “the [Lobbying Disclosure Act] LDA is ridiculous, the lobbying rules are ridiculous and, frankly, the Obama proposal is ridiculous because it’s not going to solve the problem.”
The problem, as he defines it, is a corrupt Congress not special interests. “I would put 75 percent of the responsibility of the current political crisis on the members of Congress,” he argued.
The renowned professor has in the past asserted that President Obama would be an “accessory” to torture if Obama did not prosecute Bush Administration officials who committed “war crimes” and he has guested on both the left-wing Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow shows.
Turley suggested several reforms to keep Congress from yielding to corrupting temptations, including
1. Earmark reform. “And for that matter why do we allow all of these earmarks instead of going through appropriations committee?” asked Turley. He later added that transparency’s uses were limited since “Some guys like [Rep. John] Murtha [D-PA] are perfectly proud, dropping millions and millions of dollars to a local airport that seems to support like a couple of Cessnas.
The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) approved “$800,000 in stimulus funds to repave the airport’s alternate runway” for the John P. Murtha Airport, reported the Washington Post on May 12. Back in April, WaPo writer Carol D. Leonnig reported that the airport “among the first in the country to win funding from this year’s stimulus package” and has received $200 million in federal funds over the last decade, $150 million of which was directed there by Rep. Murtha.
2. Building viable third parties. “We need a third party, we need to find ways to allow other parties to compete in the marketplace of ideas and that means some critical reforms including things like eliminating the electoral college, changing the way primaries are held-more importantly [how] general [elections] are held-in this country to give people far more chance to compete against incumbents and I think that’s far more important than campaign finance, public financing of campaigns,” he said. “I happen to believe that is one of the things we have to look at, but it’s far more important to simply break the monopoly of power [by incumbents], to allow people to compete against them.”
The most recent large-scale third party electoral victory within the United States was by the Republican Party, which replaced the Whig Party halfway through the 19th century. The first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), U.S. House of Representatives incumbents were reelected at a 94 percent rate in 2006 and 2008; U.S. Senate incumbents had a 79 percent and 86 percent reelection rate in these years.
Prof. Turley also suggested completely banning gifts to members of Congress and “forcing” full disclosure of Member’s familial connections to lobbying firms.
On his Ratemyprofessors.com profile, Prof. Turley has been branded by students as an “entertainer.”
One student commented that “There was no other class I ever left with tears in my eyes because I was laughing so much.” Thus Turley had no problem making fun of former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle (S. Dakota), Barack Obama’s initial pick for the Department of Health and Human Services; Daschle withdrew his name amid publicity that he had failed to pay over $120,000 in taxes.
Speaking on the need for Congressional members to disclose their family’s lobbying ties, Turley joked that “People like Tom Daschle actually had a whole family of lobbyists. His wife was a lobbyist, kids were lobbyists-I think his dog was a lobbyist, I think for PETA. I actually thought he had fewer children until I actually read how many registered lobbyists, but you could actually throw a stick and hit a Daschle kid who was lobbying anywhere in Washington.”