When Lobbying Isn't Hobbying

Everyone is huffing and puffing over the big time soccer scandal and it's designated villain, Sepp Blatter. A fusillade of media attack has felled its prey on solid evidence which most of the avengers say they knew all along. Bribes of one sort or another have snuffed the life out of fair play. Score one for the crime busters.

But that scuzzy behavior looks an awful lot like what we call "lobbying," slightly modified. There are gradations of influence peddling, of course, and the tactics employed to save old growth forests by non-profit groups don't belong in the same category as oil companies spending lavishly on politicians to promote fracking. With some exceptions, then, lobbying is outright buying favoritism and votes for hugely profit making ventures. Most every elected official depends on its largesse to finance campaigns.

The Nation magazine reported last year that there were more than 12,000 registered lobbyists in Washington but most analysts think that's the tip of a much bigger iceberg. One student of lobbying, James Thurber, estimates there are closer to 100,000  working increasingly on covert "underground" schemes. The government reports that advantage seekers spent $28.9 billion from 1998-2010. The biggest spenders, in the range of $4 billion apiece, were the usual suspects: finance, insurance, real estate, health providers and an assortment of corporations.

Minority and un-bankrolled movements as usual bore the brunt of this gigantic arm twisting, lacking the resources and cash to match powerful opponents. The ideals of democratic process, as many have pointed out, have further departed from the practice of making policy. Lobbying greases the wheels of practically unfettered capitalism with virtually no braking system to slow it down.

It all makes the world soccer federation's skullduggery look like chicken feed in the realm of malfeasance. For media and public consumption purposes, however, the soccer federation's sins are neat and comprehensible whereas Washington lobbying is a vast, amorphous creature without a head. At least Africa got a World Cup tournament out of the federation's bad behavior. All we get from down-home lobbying is a continuation of carbon dioxide gushing.

You might ask, though admittedly only by this impolite prompting, what this might have to do with the pope's upcoming encyclical on the environment? Glad you asked. The lead-up to the June 18 release has squashed any doubt that the Vatican is catching on to the methods of alerting the world to what's ahead. In the old days, nothing was going to happen. It just happened. Now there's advance publicity, almost to a fault. At times it can seem as if the encyclical was issued some time ago and its actual appearance could be a tad anti-climactic. Presumably nothing will significantly reduce what is expected to be its considerable impact, however.

The question here is how should its cause be best pursued? Lobbying governing bodies in ethically acceptable ways is certainly one option that will be encouraged. Another comes to mind that could make a deep impression: if the church used some of its own resources to support a particular effort to save the planet such as deforestation in the Amazon or investment in alternative energy endeavors.

Hearkening the world to causes on behalf of humanity must be a priority, as the encyclical seeks to do. Without actions to back up convictions, however, the air goes out of those summonses. Likewise, I think the pope's call for economic justice begs concrete steps to empower unions or counteract monopolies. Words go far but without examples they don't tend to go far. To lift an old country saying out of context: "Kissin' don't last; cookin do."  




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