The media adores stories that bolster prevailing narratives about the virtuousness of “bipartisanship” and the nefariousness of money in politics. Last week, they got both when socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and conservative Ted Cruz displayed some populist synergy by promising to work on legislation that would ban former lawmakers from taking paid lobbyist positions.
With the “ambitious bipartisan effort,” these two “seemingly opposite legislators” found “common ground” in their disapproval of former members of Congress “wielding their influence in new careers as government lobbyists,” read one particularly insufferable piece.
Now, I don’t very much care for rent-seeking lobbyists, but I care even less for bipartisan attacks on the First Amendment.
Lobbying exists. And producing laws that prohibit one class of Americans from pursuing an entirely legitimate and constitutionally protected vocation merely because they’ve been in public office—despite the disreputable nature of both jobs—should be unconstitutional.
You don’t have to rake in the big bucks with the trial lawyers association to read the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
There’s no addendum in the founding document that says except for “bakers who refuse to design individual same-sex wedding cakes” or “those who give money anonymously” or “fossil-fuel influence-peddlers who help provide cheap, affordable energy” or “greedy former politicians who are cashing in with the lucrative abortion lobby.”
There are fewer lobbyists in D.C. today than there have been in the past 20 years, even though lobbying groups spend more money promoting their causes than ever. Many former politicians are functional “lobbyists” who simply don’t register as such, yet still do virtually the same job. Which is to say, if you believe bans on speech will change the dynamic of politics, you’re incredibly naive.
For more than a century, lobbyists have been useful strawman for elected officials who want to avoid directly insulting voters and smearing their opponents as lapdogs. The most obvious example is the preposterous treatment the National Rifle Association has gotten over the years. Democrats like to pretend that the Second Amendment advocacy group is holding politicians hostage rather than merely representing the positions of millions of voters that those politicians rely on, in the same way that Planned Parenthood does.
As hard as it may be to believe, lobbyist speech can be beneficial. Sometimes individuals in an industry pool their resources and hire a lobbyist who makes arguments and offers expertise—biased as it surely is—that politicians aren’t aware of. The downside, upside or cost of legislation, for example.
Surely there are ignorant elected officials who harbor puerile ideas about the world that might benefit from hearing more information and debate.
Lobbying isn’t inherently unethical. There are lobbyists for construction workers, nurses, casket makers, lawn care providers, and numerous other industries that most voters probably find morally neutral.
Yet, not one of these outfits, not even the ones with the most money or the most politicized agendas, has ever controlled your vote or the vote of your cowardly elected official.
Politicians rely on groups whose views comport with their own agendas. Banning speech won’t change that reality.