The main difference between bribery and lobbying is that bribery is considered illegal, while lobbying is not. That’s it folks! Bribery has always been about the effort to buy power and paying to guarantee a certain result. And, until recently, lobbying was about influencing power. Today, those distinctions are mostly gone while the money offered as contributions by lobbyists is simply laundered through campaign and PAC accounts.
While the Federal Election Commission has strict rules prohibiting the personal use of campaign funds, helping one to get elected or re-elected to a cushy job is just one type of payoff. In addition to the form fitting seats and a generous vacation schedule, legislators make names for themselves that have marquee value. They have a history of using inside information to acquire or dump stock while exempting themselves from the insider trading laws that typically land mere citizens in jail.
Officially, lobbying is organizing a group of like-minded people, industries, or entities to influence an authoritative body or lawmaking individual. This influence is often brought to bear through financial contributions. Bribery involves the payment of something such as money, services, goods, or an intangible favor in the subversion of normal practices. This is done for gain, special treatment, or some sort of advantage.
If this seems to you like a distinction without a difference, you’re not alone. Efforts to differentiate between the two is, in today’s politics, intended for deceiving the public. The one thing that should now be obvious to all of us is that bribery in the form of lobbying is systematically diminishing the influence of voters while steadily augmenting the influence of donors.
Lobbyists have existed for as long as governments. They once operated as information givers and were considered to be a valuable source of facts. Although the information was typically skewed in support of their cause or industry, they rarely engaged in bribery. They would instead gradually and methodically build support for their causes. They might have funded a study, survey, or research that would sway a politician’s opinion and that of their constituency.
Now lobbyists operate by ensuring contributions are made from all levels, the grassroots on up, to influence decision-makers at all stages. These contributions aren’t directly paid to any official or lawmaker. They might go to that person’s election or re-election campaign, to purchase advertising, to finance a fundraiser, to help a politician’s favorite cause or charity, or to support a project in the politician’s home town or state. The excessive prominence of a politician operating in such a quid pro quo fashion only serves to enrich them in some way.
We need to pay attention to each and every announcement about some former politician joining a lobbying firm and thereby leveraging their knowledge of how the government machine works. We should also confront each and every one of those companies, and each politician, including Supreme Court justices, about the use of dark money to distort the public discourse. The total spending on lobbying has grown from $1.44 billion in 1998 to $3.53 billion in 2020. And that just includes the amounts that have been reported. It doesn’t include the fungibles and intangibles.
Bribery is the first step leading to subversion within any system of government. An alternate and corrupted system is formed incrementally that introduces inefficiencies, instabilities, and obstacles to democracy. Over time, it erodes the economic foundation of a country while redirecting its benefits to a select few. The most vulnerable members of society get marginalized and any middle class, should one even survive, becomes increasingly cynical.
Once upon a time, a gift was given freely out of goodwill. When it became an incentive provided with the intention of receiving something in return, it became a bribe. Certain members of the United States Supreme Court and the Legislature have shown increasing contempt for the cardinal precepts of our constitutionally grounded democratic republic as they have undeniably and steadily blurred the lines between gifts and bribes.
Bribery was once considered to be a felony. Now it is standard operating procedure. It is long past time to restore the penalties for both the bribe giver and the bribe receiver. We should not be giving a pass to those who exert or tolerate a corrupting influence. The electorate is not being served when their representatives are engaged in whoring for some donor base. Campaign Finance Reform is an issue that has, like any other can, been kicked down the timeline for as long as most citizens can remember. Why?
The United States is now being seen as the dimming beacon of democracy while its credibility, as a representative republic, is also on the decline. Unless we,as citizens are also dim-witted, we already know that we must reverse this trend lest our grandchildren inherit a dystopian world. It’s entirely on us.
Unless our so called representatives are going to be true to their oath, and actively protect our constitution from all enemies both foreign and domestic, they should be promptly and summarily relegated to the trash heap of our national history.