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Post-democracy and the transformation of lobbying

There’s a fascinating passage on pg 164-165 of The Unwinding by George Packer, talking about the evolution of lobbying in the United States:

Quinn and Gillespie considered themselves the smart guys in the business. Lobbying was no longer about opening one door for a client—power in Washington had become too diffuse for that. It was about waging a broad strategic campaign, hitting different audiences through different channels, shaping the media’s view of an issue, building pressure on legislators in their home districts. Quinn Gillespie was expert at forming temporary “grasstop” coalitions—enlisting local citizens in a cause as if there had been organic grassroots support. The firm didn’t flinch from controversy. When Quinn’s legal client Marc Rich, a billionaire fugitive living in Switzerland, received a presidential pardon on Clinton’s last day in office, the uproar consumed Quinn for weeks. But an alternative view of the affair was available: Quinn had gotten a tough thing done for a client. Old Washington—the press, the social establishment, the upholders of high standards—pretended that its moral sensibilities had been scandalized. New Washington understood that the Marc Rich pardon was good for business.

What I’d like to understand is how these changes map onto the expansion of the sector ($1.25 billion was spent on lobbying in 1997 and this tripled by 2009). Furthermore, what’s the relationship between power in Washington becoming diffuse and lobbyists developing new strategies and tactics? How does the multiplication of ‘broad strategic companies’ impact upon the likelihood of any one campaign succeeding in its objective? Does this in turn drive further ‘innovation’, as lobbyists compete with each other to find new ways of pursuing the interests of their clients?

In other words, might developments of the sort invoked in this extract be driven at least in part by the sheer numbers operating in the established ways? How do the unintended consequences of lobbying accumulate and what does this mean for the practice of lobbyists? I don’t recall having read any political memoirs which address this transformation and I would like to. I’m curious about the everyday changes this gives rise to in the lives of politicians and those running their offices. I find it hard not to wonder if a sort of attentional fortification becomes necessary, even amongst those eagerly embracing corporate sponsors, as well as what the consequences of this are for how they manage their political activities and ongoing careers.

Categories: Post-Democracy, Depoliticisation and Technocracy Shadow Mobilization, Astroturfing and Manipulation Thinking

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Mark

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