Don’t you love how Barack Obama made good on his promises to get all the dirty lobbying money out of Washington? Actually, the situation is precisely the reverse. After four years of Obama, Washington is swimming in lobbyist money – enough to take it from dire economic straits a few years ago, to one of America’s wealthiest cities.
It’s true that a lot of highly compensated federal employee positions have been created under Obama, but Jim Geraghty of National Review noted this morning that “it’s not federal-government employees who are making the really big bucks, who can support really high-end restaurants and luxury chains and spas and ludicrously overpriced downtown luxury condos. No, for that, we need to look at the lobbying community – where the private sector gets together to influence public dollars.”
Geraghty went on to quote a New York Times Magazine article about D.C.’s politically fueled economic boom – which, the magazine cheekily informs us, was “financed by you.”
As the size of the federal budget has ballooned over the past decade, more and more of that money has remained in the District. “We get about 15 cents of every procurement dollar spent by the federal government,” says Stephen Fuller, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and an expert on the region. “There’s great dependence there.” And with dependence comes fragility. About 40 percent of the regional economy, Fuller says, relies on federal spending.
Against this background, consider the exciting new career of former Health and Human Services director Jay Angoff, who is very literally cashing in – big time – on the monstrously complicated ObamaCare regulations he helped to design. He’s going to work for a law firm that will make a fortune from suits based on ObamaCare, and they’re understandably delighted to have one of the law’s architects on their team. “Working at HHS has been immensely rewarding!” Angoff declared, without apparent irony. “The Affordable Care Act has given health insurance policyholders new rights, and will give them even more in 2014; it is critical that we defend those newfound rights.”
What a cozy little arrangement! How lovely for those who stand to rake in millions, while the rest of us face rising insurance premiums, or the outright loss of our insurance coverage, thanks to the law Angoff helped to create! “Is it relevant that the man who helped craft Obamacare’s regulations on insurers will now make lots of money by suing insurers based on those regulations?” asked Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner. I think his sense of irony is fully operational.
Then you’ve got Treasury Secretary-in-waiting Jack Lew, who is precisely the sort of person Obama likes to tell the rubes he views as a mortal enemy. He’s a bailout profiteer who pulled in almost a million dollars in bonuses while short-selling the housing market at Citigroup, on the eve of the housing market collapse. In another Washington Examiner piece, Tim Carney charted Lew’s journey back and forth through the “revolving door” between big financial firms, lobbying groups, and official Washington:
Lew was a Democratic congressional staffer in the 1980s, eventually becoming senior policy adviser to House Speaker Tip O’Neill and executive director of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. When O’Neill retired after the 1986 election, Lew cashed out on K Street.
Lew became a partner at Van Ness Feldman, where he specialized “in energy and regulatory law,” according to a New York Times article at the time. Back then lobbyists and lobbying firms did not need to register as such, but Van Ness Feldman’s focus was mainly Capitol Hill: It was founded by four Democratic congressional aides, and National Journal reported at the time that “lobbying accounts for nearly half the firm’s work.”
With Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, Lew passed back through the revolving door, serving eight years in the White House, including a stint from 1998 to 2001 as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
After that, Lew spent a few years as an administrator at New York University before going to Wall Street.
Then it was off to Citigroup, where billion-dollar levels of wackiness ensued – including not just ugly housing-market hedging, but politically connected “green” investments wholly dependent upon big government subsidies for “profitability.” Then Lew cruised back into government, bumping into some other lobbyist pals as he passed through the White House Office of Management and Budget, on his way to Treasury.
This is all, to put it mildly, strongly at odds with the way Obama presents his high-minded lobbyist-free approach to politics. It’s also an interesting illustration of how political capital can become an incredibly valuable economic “resource,” so valuable that it warps the value of everything else. Like every other valuable commodity, demand is high, so more political influence is manufactured to meet it. The process is inherently corrupt. Uncle Sam is swaggering around with bags of taxpayer loot in his hands, and platinum credit cards in his pockets. He treats a billion dollars as petty cash, and a million dollars as a rounding error. He boasts of his ability to rearrange the marketplace with a wave of his hand – why, he now has the power to force individuals to buy politically-approved products from private companies! Is it any wonder that well-heeled special interests want a piece of that action?
There are no big, clean governments. You can have big, or you can have honesty, transparency, and freedom from the influence of lobbyists. The more of our economy the government controls, the more valuable the ability to influence politicians becomes. Money chases value, which is why Main Street U.S.A. teems with the long-term unemployed, while the streets of Washington are paved with gold.