BARONS AND REVOLVING DOORS

It was a foolish King who didn’t pay attention to his Barons when they pleaded their cause at his court. Take evil King John for instance. He ignored his Barons and faced revolt and the humiliation of being forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.

You might well argue that in the long run it was a good thing with the ‘Great Charter’ signposting and underpinning the world’s great democracies centuries later.

Perhaps so but be under no illusion 800 years later little has fundamentally changed. A much more sophisticated system of Kings and Barons exists today.


Today’s ‘Kings’ are elected Prime Ministers and Presidents and their ruling parties. The ‘Barons’ are the huge national and multinational companies and the ‘Courts’ are the Parliaments and Congresses of the world’s democracies.

lobbyingIn Medieval times it was called petitioning or pleading a cause. Today we call it lobbying and it’s a huge, worldwide industry. It generates billions of pounds in its own right and influences the deployment of trillions more. And in BohemianMojo’s humble opinion it is an insidious, internal threat to the democratic will of the people.

Lobbying effects the law, regulation and price of all the mainstays of life in our complex societies. Banking, fuel, utilities, medicine, healthcare; you name it. Food of course with Big Ag and the GM companies lobbying hard and effectively to their own benefit and against the consumers’.

That’s why we’re featuring lobbying on the Food Fight column but in order to convey the huge scope of the subject we won’t confine ourselves to food lobbying alone. Instead a broad brush picture might give an idea of the size of the corruption real and potential generated by lobbyists. In a brief column like this, a glimpse is all we can give you.

In the US, as well as the UK and the rest of the European Union, registers and statistics of lobbying are kept. Even some of the official facts are startling.

lobbying dollarsFor instance recent figures show that 30 major US corporations, including General Electric, Boeing and Verizon spent more on lobbying than they paid in Federal tax in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Those thirty corporations also include twelve major utility companies and that must raise the suspicion they may have been lobbying Washington for an unseen cartel to keep power prices high across the US? Perhaps one of them could reassure us this isn’t the case.

Meanwhile in the UK the banking sector spent £93m on lobbying in 2014. They, in general of course, were responsible for causing massive financial pain to their clients while overseeing a systemically corrupt banking system.

The banks had spent plenty before the crash to ensure the light regulation that actually caused the crash. So why spend £93m afterward the crash? The allegation is they were spending so many millions to convince the UK government the mass prosecutions of executives who diddled, fiddled and rigged the system would be counterproductive.

The lobbying scene in the European Union is truly huge and bewildering. There are no fewer than 60,000 lobbyists accredited to the EU handling budgets of billions of Euros.

As well as corporations the charity sector and Non Governmental Organizations engage actively in lobbying. According to official EU figures the top spending NGO lobbyist is a Finnish group called EHYT dedicated to preventing substance abuse. In 2014 they reportedly spent the vast sum of €57,517,000 which is almost ten times greater than the NGO’s recorded budget.

These Kafkaesque figures are clearly incorrect and call into question the entire registration process of the EU. Will there be a thorough investigation? Of course there won’t.

Any reasonable man or woman in the street knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch. It’s obvious none of these industries would spend the huge sums involved unless they were getting something out of it. For a start they’re getting privileged access to the high and mighty the average voter with a problem could never imagine.

lobbying mythsSo what do these huge sums of money actually represent? There’s no doubt they add up to expensive lunches, lavish parties with attractive people laid on, lavish holidays dressed-up as fact finding trips. They represent jobs and preferment for the sons and daughters of politicians. No doubt such sums of money also translate into corrupt cash payments and have no doubt they buy huge and undue influence and protection from our lawmakers.

Shockingly in the UK investigative journalists posing as lobbyists have set-up stings on senior, respected politicians who openly discuss the payment of cash in return for asking rigged questions in the House. If that doesn’t undermine democracy I’d like to know what does?

BohemianMojo doesn’t point the finger at any individual or corporation in particular. But we are entitled to ask how you tell an honest lobbyist from a corrupt one? How can you judge which corporation’s budget is spent cleanly? Given the vast scale of the lobbying industry and it’s lack of true regulation clarity is all but impossible.

Let’s not forget every lobby must have an entrance and in the world of political lobbying that entry is often a revolving door. In the UK for instance scientists and executives from the government’s Environment Agency have long been swapping jobs in and out of the water companies they regulate. Same goes for GM companies and Federal departments in the US especially big spending Monsanto.

In 2008 with important Federal farming legislation on the stocks our Monsanto spend an eye-watering $8.8m in lobbying expenses on the Hill. A year later the revolving door spun again as President Obama appointed Michael Taylor, former Monsanto Vice President and chief lobbyist, as Deputy Commissioner for the FDA.

What chance then a fair deal for sustainable agriculture and non-GM food you may ask? Not much says Bohemian Mojo’s FoodFight. We say it’s time to stop the lobbying tail wagging the democratic dog.

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