K Street: Then and Now

"An over 12 year old cartoon that featured in the national media to mark 50 years of India’s independence: the situation is as grim"

I really enjoyed Becca’s presentation on the India Lobby. At first, I found it a little hard to follow because I’m not very familiar with this specific area of history. I appreciated the risk she took in using the term “lobby,” and her ability to relate it with more modern lobbies which still exist today.

In reference to the Becca’s use of the term “lobby,” her presentation raised the following question: how can it be proven that a shift in public opinion effects policy makers or catalyzes a change in policies? When she was asked this question in reference to her own project, she didn’t seem to answer the question fully. In class, the following question was raised: how can you measure the impact of a lobbying group? It would be very difficult to answer this question with quantitative data. While one could propose case studies to answer this question, I’m not sure that this question is even the most important aspect of lobbies. More important to the effects lobbyists have on policy makers is the link between corruption and lobbying. Do lobbyists inherently stimulate and perpetuate political corruption?

The Indian Lobby worked for a good cause – freedom for India was certainly not an evil endeavor. But in more modern times the title of “lobbyist” has been dirtied by corruption. When does lobbying for a specific interest, whether it’s the interest of the public or a firm, become a means for political corruption?

There are lobbyist groups that fight for good causes, just like J.J. Singh did while president of the Indian League of America in the 1940’s and 1950’s. We have lobbyist groups who besiege the American government in support of environmental sustainability and humanitarian rights worldwide. We also have lobbyists, like Jack Abramoff who is currently scrambling for redemption, as one New York Times article phrased it (full article accessible online here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/us/jack-abramoff-making-a-multimedia-effort-at-redemption.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&sq=public%20opinion%20and%20lobbying&st=cse&scp=10)

As stated in the article, Abramoff has been convicted of arguably one of the most disgusting swindling endeavors in recent times: cheating Indian Tribes out of $40 million while supposedly lobbying on their account. Abramoff, fresh out of jail, has now claimed to have been transformed. He claims that while in prison, he was able to reflect on the enterprises of K Street and how to fix its dangerously slimy deeds by eliminating lobbying altogether.

While I’ve never been to jail for embezzling $40 million from Native American tribes (as if they haven’t been maltreated enough), I can’t say that I would support an end to lobbying completely. I do not believe that all lobbyist groups are bad. As a member of a lobbyist (and somewhat activist, at least at the college level) group myself, I cannot fully support the demise of all lobbyists everywhere. It’s a shame though that people like Abramoff take advantage of such systems.

While not completely relevant to Becca’s project, I think comparisons of types of lobbying and the effects of lobbying on our political system are very interesting, especially because of its modern political ramifications. I wish Becca luck with the rest of her project!

I think it goes unsaid that I personally cannot wait to read Abramoff’s book. There’s nothing quite like the theories of a Satanist turned Saint for a bit of light reading over winter break.

(Photo and Caption credit: Aastha Kukreti. Delhi Greens Blog. “On Gandhi Jayanthi, Remembering the Mahatma to Resurrect His Principles.” Posted Friday Oct 2, 2009. http://delhigreens.com/2009/10/02/on-gandhi-jayanthi-remembering-the-mahatma-to-resurrect-his-principles/)

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