When asked the question, “Who is the most powerful person in the world?” most people respond with the answer, “the President of the United States.” Being the ultimate decision maker of a state which has the most powerful army and the largest economy in the world as well as a range of media and technologies influential in world politics, by all means, endows the President of the United States with authority; so much so, that the nation’s capital Washington D.C. has become a venue in which everyone around the world seeks to claim their rights. Many people in different regions with diverse cultural backgrounds follow the political agenda of the United States, involving a variety of matters such as regional conflicts, oppressed minorities, refugees and innovative economic projects. The President of the United States is sometimes obliged to make decisions that will have an influence on billions of people. That being said, are these decisions taken without any intervention or are there other factors involved in this decision-making process?
Despite the fact that the President of the United States is accepted as the most powerful decision-maker in the world, the presence of another force - both for and against this power - is well-accepted and well-known by all: Lobbying.
Lobbying, one of the important ways of political communication, means “to influence the political decision-making mechanisms” in its simplest description. The purpose of lobbying gains recognition as “evaluating the issues on the agenda from the viewpoint of the interest group represented; advocating one’s own facts and claims in the international arena by means of suitable methods and media to persuade and influence the persons in decision-making mechanisms.” Lobbyists carry out a great deal of research on their argument, produce and document this knowledge and then transform it into action.
The Constitution of the USA carefully balances power between the three main branches: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. The lobbying organizations are the ones that influence the decisions taken by these three bodies. The lobbying system is a model formed by different interest groups to generate pressure on the US Congress and the Federal Government. Washington D.C. hosts some 10,000 licensed lobbyists, not including business community representatives, public relations experts and lawyers. Furthermore, there are hundreds of lobbying organizations of various sizes. This extensive network is a system serving all the people from every state in the country and every corner of the world seeking to protect their rights.
This system is so powerful that the revenue of the largest 10 lobbying companies has exceeded two billion dollars in the last five years. According to James A. Thurber, the editor of the Journal of Congress and the Presidency and the Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington, the lobbying industry employs 100,000 people and brings in 9 billion dollars a year, which is just about as much as the annual budgets of many states. All of these people are employed to influence several thousand decision-makers in the federal government, along with 100 senators and 435 representatives in the congress.
The history of lobbying is as old as the history of the US. Having focused on the helm of state in the 19th Century, lobbyists, with the empowerment of the federal government in the 20th Century, started to settle in Washington. The lobbying industry has flourished dramatically since the 2000s. Today, the recorded expenses of large companies for lobbying activities amount to $2.6 billion a year, more than the total of the annual budgets of the House of Representatives ($1.18 billion) and the Senate ($860 million).
The largest expenditures of the US federal budget are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as estimates indicate the total cost of these wars accounts for six trillion dollars. These hundreds of billions of dollars, much needed by low income families or retired Americans, is instead being spent on over-seas wars. Furthermore, the total amount of money spent to bailout the banks that fell into distress during the 2008 financial crisis is calculated to be more than $10 trillion. The defense and financial sectors have the largest lobbying budgets.
Bringing about a positive impact on political issues, following a coordinated strategy, carrying out extensive publicity campaigns and creating and moulding favorable public opinion are of course natural and acceptable activities. However, the amount of capital transferred to industries which spend vast sums of money on lobbying activities, lies heavily on a good conscience and raises a question mark in people's minds. In a similar way, any and all activities performed by the tobacco lobby to promote smoking, by the food lobby to manipulate people into consuming unhealthy foods, or the oil lobby to increase carbon dioxide emissions are in fact issues important enough to become a concern to all mankind and to trigger the emergence of global problems.
Many Americans feel uncomfortable with the impact of the lobbying activities on Washington. The Democracy Spring movement, brought to the agenda by their protests in Washington in recent times, calls for the reduction of the impact of the powerful interest groups on the US government. Similarly, the Occupy Wall Street movement claims that the financial lobby - characterized by Wall Street companies - fuels the ever-increasing income inequality in the United States. In his election campaigns, Bernie Sanders, one of the Democratic Party's presidential candidates for the upcoming 2016 elections, has expressed many times that he, if elected, will reduce the impact of both defense contractors and lobbyists.
It is beyond question that lobbying activities are not restricted solely to the United States; there are ongoing strategies developed by many parties to be successful in almost every country in the world. Yet an important duty is incumbent upon the United States, as billions of people in almost every part of the world have expectations from US politics. For instance, decisions taken in the field of technology are not merely binding for the United States, since the technologies produced by the United States are employed by everyone in the world. A law to be introduced in regard to Twitter or Facebook would assuredly have an impact on over one billion people all around the world. Similarly, a decision taken on biofuels would be a determinant on food prices, which could easily become a matter of life or death for one and half billion people living on the edge of starvation.
All of these considerations are clear indications for the importance of lobbying activities and the necessity to employ these activities in a proper way. Consequently, standing up for what is right and for justice rather than merely standing up for the powerful or a mere continuation of the status quo is a matter of critical importance for the USA. Indeed, the new president – whomever he or she may be - will have to pass an important test in this regard. The world expects that the decision-making mechanisms of the US government administer justice for everyone and look after the common interests of all humanity in every decision taken instead of merely pursuing a self-serving agenda.
Adnan Oktar's piece in American Herald Tribune: