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Dinner with Hillary?
And much more! Despite Obama’s call, lobbyists will thrive in the US
If this doesn’t prove why Obama will be unsuccessful against lobbyists, then nothing will. When US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton introduced Richard Holbrooke as the special envoy for South Asia, both were expected to spout fire on Pakistan on the terrorism issue, and consequently, also were necessarily supposed to mention India and the Kashmir issue in their most important introductory press briefs. But India didn’t want the Kashmir issue to be discussed by Holbrooke, especially on the same platform as a discussion on Pakistan. Guess what! India and Kashmir were as absent from their well decorated press briefs as a live turkey from the White House. Experts confidently whisper about India’s ‘lobbying’ prowess as being the key.
Traditionally, a lobbyist is defined as a person who tries to influence legislation in favour of a group interest. In spite of criticism, the American democracy has given a special focus on lobbying by passing resolutions to protect the interests of specific moneyed individuals [eg. Saudi King Abdullah], groups [eg. tobacco companies] and communities [eg. Jews] in mind since 1995. Since then, lobbying has also joined the club of a profitable industry. According to Center for Congressional and Presidential studies, America spent around $2.13 billion on lobbying in 2004 alone and there currently are as many as 1,50,000 people involved in the industry. And the malaise, if you can call it that, is not limited to corporations. The Center for Public Integrity reveals that over 300 universities have spent over $132 million in the last six years while 1,400 local governments have spent $357 million to seek favours from the government. Europe witnessed the emergence of lobbying as early as 1979 during the first European parliamentary election. In Brussels alone, there are 1,400 lobbyists and over 2,600 ‘special interest groups’. The legal lobbying industry in UK is estimated to be worth $1.9 billion, employing over 14,000 people – in fact, a few MPs are often approached [read ‘physically spammed’] more than a hundred times per week by lobbyists. With time, lobbying has expanded its roots across borders.
One of the most successful lobbying case studies is the extravagant and gigantic network of Israeli lobbyists that includes everyone from renowned think-tanks, newspapers to active lobbyist organisations like American Israeli Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC]. The results talk for themselves. Researches show that Israel obtained popular US support in over 55% of ‘issues’ while Arabs or Palestinians have achieved support in less than 10% in the last 40 years.
On another front, it is due to lobbying that notorious President Omar Bongo of the Gabon, who is criticised for some of the worst human rights violations in history, had a successful meeting with Bush. It is claimed that Bongo paid $9 million to Jack Abramoff, a famous lobbyist, to ‘fix’ the meeting. When Malaysia intended to refurbish its tainted image, the then controversial PM Mahathir Mohamed paid $1.2 million to get a date with Bush; while Pakistan has spent $1.1 million in 2008 on lobbying for trade support. India is also not behind in the league, paying almost $2.5 million to the famous lobbying firm BGR and $291,665 to Patton Boggs for influencing the nuclear deal.
So the question is, should lobbying be considered illegal, or even unethical? Our take is quite to the contrary. Lobbying firms act quite like PR firms, upping the ante where normal tier diplomacy fails. As long as lobbying does not tread the realms of illegalities [giving bribes, gifts, favours et al] and simply markets a concept better, we guess judges can continue keeping their bath robes on. Well, it’s worked for India pretty well in the past. And hey, before we forget, a live turkey always makes it to the White House every year on Thanksgiving Day for what lobbyists call the ‘annual pardon’.
By:- Akram Hoque
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