Thursday, January 28, 2010

"A deficit of trust": lobbyists and Obama

I had a cup of tea with a colleague this afternoon as we got to grips with a substantial questionnaire. In a casual moment he asked if I had listened to the highlights of President Obama's first State of the Union address on the BBC. He thought that I would be interested in Obama's comments on lobbyists in Washington (see earlier comments).

So I sat down with the BBC transcript and here is the relevant section (45 minutes into the speech):
Let's meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let's try common sense. A novel concept.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust - deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we have to take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue - to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; to give our people the government they deserve.

That's what I came to Washington to do. That's why - for the first time in history - my administration posts on our White House visitors online. That's why we've excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs, or seats on federal boards and commissions.
But we can't stop there. It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or with Congress. It's time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.

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Cultural Property Observer said...


If you are so worried about lobbying in the US, perhaps you could ask the AIA, CAARI, etc. to disclose all their contacts with government officials on behalf of the cultural affairs establishments of Cyprus, Egypt, Italy, Iraq, Iran, etc. i.e., the countries in which they or their colleagues excavate.

I would also suggest you investigate the amounts archaeological lobbyists give to various political candidates. I was a bit surprised myself on some of the amounts.

Peter Tompa

Nathan T. Elkins said...

Who would be the individual that "AIA, CAARI, etc." are paying c. $20,000 in a single year to lobby and influence lawmakers on their behalf? Is there such a person?

We know who the IAPN and PNG pay.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Nathan- You and I both know these efforts are in effect underwritten by the Universities that employ the archaeological lobbyists and who give them substantial freedom to pursue their "research."

PS You may think $20,000 per year is a lot of money for lobbying, but many lobbyists charge that amount per month, not per year.

I can also certainly say that most of the lobbying done on behalf of numismatic and antiquities dealer groups is done on either a voluntarily basis or at a substantially reduced rate.

Peter Tompa

David Gill said...

Would you care to name the 'archaeological lobbyists'? Or do you mean archaeologists, or those with an interest in archaeological matters, who choose to donate money to political parties?
Best wishes

Nathan T. Elkins said...

Is it then suggested that research on the illicit trade in antiquities is invalid? Is it not damaging to the very foundations of archaeology and the writing of history?

What about research on climate change or zoologists who study damaging wildlife trafficking? Is their research on these subjects invalid? Do these things not damage their disciplines or humanity as a whole?

I expect if I was a shady importer of songbirds, I might try to make the argument that this research is invalid and that they should not be allowed to write letters or travel at their own expense to talk to their congressmen.

Cultural Property Observer said...

David and Nathan-

I have certainly been at meetings in Congress where Prof. Patty Gerstenblith and Ellen Herscher have identified themselves as representing the AIA. I considered it lobbying and I hope they did so too.

I don't think there is anything wrong with that and in fact the right to petition the government is enshrined in the US Constitution.

There is, however, in my opinion a loophole in the law that forces individuals whose firms receive direct payments to register and report, but which does not require others associated with groups with direct financial or professional interests at stake to do so.

Perhaps in any subsequent reform legislation this loophole will be addressed.


Peter Tompa

David Gill said...

Dear Peter
I hope we both believe (passionately!) in the values of a modern democracy. So those in government (voted there by us) need to listen to those of us who have expertise in a particular field.
You are, I feel, being more than unfair to Patty Gerstenblith and Ellen Herscher. Are they paid lobbyists? No.
Are you paid by a Brussels-based international organisation to lobby on behalf if its members?
Best wishes


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