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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Lobbyists: friendlier than you think

    If everything politicians say is taken at face value, it would seem that lobbyists fall somewhere between Judas Iscariot and Joseph Stalin in the circles of hell. Sen. Barack Obama has attacked Sen. John McCain for the presence of lobbyists on his campaign bus, as though they were diseased vermin threatening to infest the nation, while former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards exuberantly railed against lobbyists as part of his campaign, declaring in one speech, “”We do not want their money! Their money is no good to us!””

    Try telling that to UA President Robert Shelton. He’s in the capital this week, lobbying Congressional officials on behalf of the university along with the UA’s hired professional lobbyists. According to OpenSecrets, a project of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics that tracks political contributions and lobbying expenses, the UA devoted $80,000 towards lobbying last year, and $141,000 in 2006.

    But the UA isn’t the only group in the lobbying game – there’s also the Arizona Students’ Association (ASA), a grass-roots organization that represents students at the three major universities in Arizona and lobbies the state government to ensure a steady flow of state money and urge textbook affordability legislation. Alumni have their own de facto lobbying organization, the AdvoCats, who also lobby members of the state Legislature on the university’s behalf.

    These efforts have yielded a good deal of funding for the university. The UA Mirror Lab received $1 million, earmarked by Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, for the development of new solar energy technology. Another $5 million was requested for the College of Engineering to develop a computerized threat-response system with the military. The ASA helped push a bill through the Arizona State Legislature regarding textbook price disclosure (HB 2230).

    To members of the UA community, “”Big University”” lobbying seems benign, but its powers can be just as sinister as any of the usual suspects. Ben Adler of The Washington Monthly detailed the influence of the “”Big Six”” lobbying groups for the higher education lobby, which was able to derail efforts by Congress to crack down on the abuse of legacy admissions. The UA is a member of three of these six.

    Few, however, would disagree that the presence of a university lobby provides an important voice that must be heard in the chambers of Washington. Yet just as “”Big U”” lobbying often has had positive effects, so do the lobbyists of the supposedly nefarious “”Big Business”” lobby. After all, it is major agricultural corporations that are lobbying for an end to the hopelessly outdated and ineffective embargo against Cuba. Big business fought against the jingoism that poisoned the Dubai Ports World deal, and big business opposed the penalizing of companies that hire illegal immigrants.

    Rather than being a force of evil, lobbyists are in fact an important voice in political discourse. Their often unique and unconventional perspectives on seemingly one-sided issues provide legislators with a broader perspective on any given issue. Furthermore, lobbyists are in a way another branch of government, providing another voice to articulate the interests of everyday people. Lobbyists are often accused of representing “”vested interests,”” but these interests, such as those of “”Big Oil,”” are also the interests of the many thousands of Americans employed by these corporations, as well as the many thousands that have invested in their stocks. It is lobbyists, not members of Congress, that are watching out for the well-being of their retirement packages. And it’s lobbyists that are looking out for the well-being of the university, too.

    Denunciations against lobbyists are a cheap red herring, intentionally thrown out to obscure a broader problem. Politicians point their fingers elsewhere to avoid the fact that it is they who are the root of problems in politics. No lobbyist, after all, has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution, or to work in the interests of the American people, but every elected official does. The fault does not lie with lobbyists who exercise their First Amendment rights, but with politicians who fail to uphold their duty to the nation they claim to represent. So sleep soundly tonight – there’s a lobbyist in Washington looking out for you.

    Evan Lisull is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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