To the editor of THE EAGLE:
The Eagle’s recent editorial on lobbyist influence in Boston and Washington ("What lobbyists do," August 26) was welcome indeed. But it was also notable for a misrepresentation of how lobbyists operate and for a glaring, inexplicable omission.
First, legislators do not "hide under their desks" from big-money lobbyists. Quite the contrary. Legislators on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill constantly call and cajole those lobbyists, demanding that they donate money to their campaigns and raise additional funds by hosting fundraisers -- events attended by the lobbyists’ wealthy corporate clients and frequently held at the lobbyists’ own offices.
And the glaring omission? That while noting the destructive impact of lobbyist influence on important legislation (like the long-stalled Bottle Bill), The Eagle failed to mention that Western Mass. is represented in the state Senate and the U.S. House by legislators who rely almost exclusively on lobbyists and their corporate clients to fill their campaign coffers.
In fact, the campaign-finance disclosures of State Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield) -- available online with just a few clicks -- read like a "who’s who" of the most powerful lobbyists and corporations in America. These deep-pocketed interests are not working to advance the public interest. Instead, they spend millions of dollars to tilt the economic playing field to their very substantial advantage. And it’s working. That’s why more and more Americans are struggling to hang on to homes, decent jobs, and the chance of a better future during an era of obscene corporate profits and massive wealth concentration.
Of course, every legislator insists that contributions from lobbyists and corporate interests "don’t buy my vote." True or not, it ultimately doesn’t matter. Because the real power of lobbyists and corporate money in politics lies in narrowing the agenda to ensure that the ideas and change we need are never even seriously considered. All of that money and lobbyist influence buys silence. Or as the Eagle’s editorial put it more charitably, "inaction." That means the most we can hope for is marginal change at a time in history when so much more is necessary.
We certainly can’t expect legislators like Downing and Neal -- Democrats who rely so heavily on the big-money lobbyist infrastructure The Eagle rightly decries -- to speak out in support of broad campaign finance and lobbying reform. If their role in maintaining and benefiting from the corrupt status quo is not even highlighted in an editorial criticizing that corrupt status quo, why would they?