Thursday, January 16, 2014

A benefit of political gridlock? It won't last.

A Washington, DC colleague reported to me this week that spending on lobbying in the nation's capital has declined considerably.  Why?  With current gridlock in Congress, legislation that is viewed as harmful by corporate, labor, or other interests is exceptionally unlikely to pass.  So why spend money fighting something you don't really have to worry about?

I've looked for documentation of this pattern and found this article from the Huffington Post in October.  Excerpt:

More than two-thirds of last year’s top 100 lobbying entities spent less on federal-level lobbying activity during this year’s third quarter than they did the year before, according to a Center for Public Integrity of analysis of new congressional disclosure reports and Center for Responsive Politics data.

There were exceptions to the rule:

Pharmaceutical behemoths, gun advocates and corporate agriculture interests are notable outliers.
The big political issue before the current Congress will not be new legislation.  It will be "extenders," reauthorizations of government programs and policies that expire absent renewal legislation.  This article in Forbes gives some examples from the tax code. An excerpt:

In all, 55 provisions of the Internal Revenue Code died an unceremonious death as the possum dropped last night, but understand – this is nothing new. The Code is about as permanent as a Kardashian marriage, with provisions routinely being written for a finite period, expiring, and then either proactively or retroactively being extended. It’s the worst business model imaginable – particularly because many of these short-term provisions were written specifically as business incentives, yet there tenuous nature makes it impossible for businesses to plan for them – but it’s a model that Congress has maddeningly embraced.

So, why doesn't Congress just make things permanent? Obviously, if businesses, labor unions and others need to get laws extended, they will be much more likely to contribute to political campaigns.  It would be electoral suicide, in terms of fund-raising, if provisions were permanent!  So, look for an uptick in lobbying expenses.

No comments: