When I worked in Washington years ago my office stood a block from K Street, the epicenter of lobbyists, the influence peddlers. Many have diversified since then, moved to even swankier hideouts, but their work is still pretty much the same: putting the arm on the boys and girls who are supposed to represent us in Congress.
Fifty years ago the lobbyists mostly represented Big Business, but in today’s world their machinations are deeper, darker, and even more far-reaching than I ever thought was possible.
The most famous, or infamous, lobbyist until recently was Paul Manafort, now in prison for the underhanded work he did and the million-dollar profits he hid for greatly benefiting the Russian government.
Although his influence as Donald Trump’s campaign manager was short-lived in 2016, he may ultimately have planted seeds in the notoriously receptive imagination of his boss that blossomed into Trump’s expectation that he could illegally get what he wanted from Manafort’s multimillion-dollar client, the Ukraine. Manafort’s lobbying sent him to jail. Trump’s has got himself impeached.
Summing up the illegal buying and selling that Trump tried on the Ukraine, his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters in October, “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy. I have news for everybody: Get over it.”
Huge lobbying organizations, in fact, are changing our laws without our realizing it.
Until a tsunami of terrible publicity in 2013 many of America’s foremost commercial brands held memberships in the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that — even though we don’t know it — cynically plays on many of our resentments, purposefully strengthening antagonism toward government programs that benefit unspecified “others,” like us.
Since that time ALEC’s membership has been less visible, except for pharmaceutical and insurance companies, the NRA, and troglodyte organizations like the Cato Institute (the former Charles Koch Foundation). But I was surprised today to see, among its members, Farmers Insurance with its tweedy and vested pitchman amiably pointing out damage claims for a moose attacking a swing set: “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”
ALEC is essentially a nationwide political lobbying organization. The “exchange” in its name is between big-money corporate donors like Farmers and state legislators. The corporations pay ALEC’s expenses and contribute to legislators’ election campaigns; in return, legislators in Pennsylvania and other states carry the agendas of Big Business to Harrisburg and statehouses throughout our country.
Just as the more than 10,000 lobbyists in Washington actually write the bills on which Congress puts its stamp, ALEC drafts legislation designed to carry out its business members’ corporate goals. It claims to introduce 800 to 1,000 bills each year in our 50 state legislatures and get 20 percent of them enacted. That’s bad business for us.
Over 10 years, Big Business corporate backers put more than $370 million into the election war chests of ALEC’s friends in state senates and assemblies. Two thousand state legislators are members of ALEC. To recognize how influential that is, that’s a quarter of all state legislators like ours in America.
There are many examples at the federal level too. Since the early 1990s the Federalist Society and its 65,000 conservative lawyers have followed a master plan that has now put three justices, the basis of a conservative majority, on our Supreme Court. Inevitably, with the support of the Federalist Society, the conservative lawyers it has sponsored have risen to positions of prominence. It’s not improper for a president to ask the advice of authorities before he makes momentous decisions such as the appointments on which Trump has acted. But, in fairness, the American people could expect the research for such an appointment to be wide-ranging and objective, to consider male and female judges of various persuasions, from throughout the nation.
We might expect the list to be original, prepared with a broad focus on this particularly momentous question of lifetime judicial appointments. Trump’s list is canned, prepared with one eye, and handed to him by a single source, the Federalist Society.
And among the most direct influencers on our laws and policies today, I should mention Stephen Miller who is leaning on his lifelong white-nationalist fear and hatred of strangers and foreigners. For nearly three years, he has used his position as a top White House adviser to orchestrate Trump’s extreme anti-immigrant agendas, pushing through inhumane policies like separating migrant families at the border, detaining young migrants in wire animal cages, and drastically reducing the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country.
Miller heads an evil organization spread across the federal government, an actual “deep state” that Trump rants about and sees everywhere but in the White House itself.
Newly released emails provided to the magazine Rolling Stone offer a glimpse of the working relationship between Miller and one of his internal allies and fellow ideologues: a senior adviser named Jon Feere at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).
In Miller’s immigration working group, where new ideas for cracking down on immigration get conceived, Rolling Stone says, Feere enjoys unfettered access to the most influential aide in the Trump White House, working long hours to advance the administration’s extreme and often inhumane immigration policies.
“Stephen Miller didn’t cut ties with the extremists when he joined the government — he brought them with him,” says Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, a government watchdog group.
The result, for what was once a “kinder, gentler America,” is iron-fisted hatred as official White House policy.