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Define Evil

Every week, our Anonymous Lobbyist answers your questions about how laws get made and why they probably shouldn't. If you have a question about the dirty business of doing business in Washington, ask her.

This week: dirty money for clean water.


I work for a non-profit organization- for the sake of anonymity, let's say we're called the "National Society for Water Filtration" and that we're a long-established professional society. In addition to that work, we have a government grant to do really important humanitarian development work in a part of the world that really needs it. In the mean time, a group of former Hill staffers started a shell of an entity with a mom-and-apple-pie name like "Clean Water for Poor Countries, " but they have no experience, no expertise and, as far as we can tell, no real ability to bring about sustainable progress. If you can't guess, despite working out asses off to get the money for our project through the proper channels, they get much more funding for their projects than we do because their Hill presence is much better than ours. Is that pretty much the way it's always going to be? Don't the people authorizing the funds care that they are throwing money at an entity with no real expertise in the area that they are supposed to be improving?

Oh, but, honey, poor countries need clean water! And, no, the people authorizing the funds probably don't care that they are throwing good money after bad. Earmarks and phonemarks are great ways to bypass Executive Branch oversight and the regular bidding process for contracts like your organization has (had?) and a great way to reward supporters and friends and people that Members and their staff think can do a really good job at, um, getting earmarks and phonemarks. So, yes, that's pretty well exactly how it's always going to be.

On the bright side, though, they can't spend the money they get appropriated to lobby for the contracts they get or want to get, so if they're really just in it for the money, getting earmarks for themselves isn't the most lucrative thing they can do, partly because it generally requires them doing some kind of actual work (or subcontracting it out to a group like yours). So, it's entirely possible that they are inexperienced, inept and aren't going to get anything important accomplished, and that they're hogging the money that your group could use to better effect, but that they also actually care about helping poor people get clean water. Don't you feel better now?

Is the pharmaceutical lobby as evil as it seems? Is it more evil than most other corporate interest groups? Are corporate lobbies more evil than, say, environmentalists? Or, are we just talking about image here?

Define evil. Is evil trying to ensure that pharmaceutical companies make profits, and their shareholders get dividends? Then, yes, but then, by that definition, every corporate lobbyist is evil. I mean, pharma companies, like all companies other than GM, exist to make profits, and they do that by selling lots of drugs for more than it costs to develop, produce and market them. The U.S. is basically the only country in the world where the drug market isn't controlled by the government and in which pharma companies are allowed to set their own prices, and they want to keep it that way. And I'm sure lots of them even honestly believe that the only way to get innovative drugs is for the system to stay exactly the way it currently is, just the same way that airline lobbyists thought that they needed the government to take over the pension funds to save their companies and Wal-Mart likes free trade and low wages to fund their business model and so on and so forth. And PETA thinks we ought not ever eat meat, and some environmentalists think the salmon spawning is more important than the livelihood of certain farmers in the West, and those farmers care more about their farms than the salmon and on and on. It's an adversarial system, much like our legal one, and so everyone has their role and their adversary and their issue to represent, and not that many people in the system are "evil." This shit is evil, and I think more people probably need to recognize the difference.

Is it that Congress/Bush/etc. never get anything important done and just engage in political backbiting, which turns people off to the whole political scene, or is it that people are already turned off to the political scene, making politicians able to get away with doing nothing and pandering to the true believers, thus turning more people off?

Well, it's definitely a chicken-and-egg argument, but I really do think it starts with voter apathy and/or taking our political system for granted. Most people don't vote, and the minority of people who do don't bother voting in any educated or informed way. Between voter apathy, gerrymandering and the power of incumbency and overall political stability to make people pay more attention to Brit and LiLo, Congress Members and Senators have far, far more job security than any single other American regardless of how much any single one of them sucks. And the less people think they can affect the system- whether that's true or not- the more they watch Rock of Love and the less attention to politics they pay and the more idiots get elected. But, hey, Dirty Sexy Money is on tonight! What was I saying?

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