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.

The notion of the ‘revolving door’ is something I’ve spent much time pondering when campaigning against the arms trade. I’ve talked to Andrew Feinstein, former South African MP and long-standing critic of the arms trade, for two podcasts which explored this issue. Here’s the most recent one I recorded. This is how Campaign Against the Arms Trade introduce the ‘revolving door’:

A disturbing number of senior officials, military staff and ministers have passed through the revolving door to join arms companies and the security industry.

They take with them contacts and privileged access – vital currency in delivering lucrative contracts.

The realistic prospect of future employment also runs the risk of public servants acting in the interests of companies whilst still in office. And beyond individual decisions, the traffic to the private sector is part of the process of the public interest becoming conflated with corporate interest: It becomes normal to unquestioningly meet, collaborate and decide policy with the arms industry, then take work with it.

There’s an important body of work, both analysis and activism, addressing this issue in relation to the defence sector. I’ve been thinking back to it recently after Move Fast and Break Things, by Jonathan Taplin, took aim at the emerging revolving door between Google and government. From pg 128-130:

Putting aside the fact that Google chairman Eric Schmidt has visited the Obama White House more than any other corporate executive in America and that Google chief lobbyist Katherine Oyama was associate counsel to Vice President Joe Biden, the list of highly placed Googlers in the federal government is truly mind-boggling.

• The US chief technology officer and one of her deputies are former Google employees.

• The acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s antitrust division is a former antitrust attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, the Silicon Valley firm that represented Google.

• The White House’s chief digital officer is a former Google employee. • One of the top assistants to the chairman of the FCC is a former Google employee and another ran a public lobbying firm funded in part by Google. • The director of United States Digital Service, responsible for fixing and maintaining, is a former Google employee.

• The director of the US Patent and Trademark Office is the former head of patents at Google. And of course the revolving door goes both in and out of the government, as the Google Transparency Project (an independent watchdog report) clearly stated.

• There have been fifty-three revolving-door moves between Google and the White House.

• Those moves involved twenty-two former White House officials who left the administration to work for Google and thirty-one Google executives (or executives from Google’s main outside firms) who joined the White House or were appointed to federal advisory boards.

• There have been twenty-eight revolving-door moves between Google and government that involve national security, intelligence, or the Department of Defense. Seven former national security and intelligence officials and eighteen Pentagon officials moved to Google, while three Google executives moved to the Defense Department.

• There have been twenty-three revolving-door moves between Google and the State Department during the Obama administration. Eighteen former State Department officials joined Google, while five Google officials took up senior posts at the State Department.

• There have been nine moves between either Google or its outside lobbying firms and the Federal Communications Commission, which handles a growing number of regulatory matters that have a major impact on the company’s bottom line.

The dynamics of each are likely to be different. But there’s still much we can learn about how to address this newer ‘revolving door’ from those who have been campaigning against the much more entrenched one.

From Why Vote Leave, by Dan Hannan, loc 739:

Lobbyists love the EU, intuiting from the moment they arrive that it was designed by and for people like them. There are some 25,000 lobbyists in Brussels, some in-house, some working for several clients, some representing pressure groups or regions, most representing big business. Figure Five shows the industries that have invested most heavily in purchasing face-time, but it is only fair to record that Big Oil and Big Pharma have their equivalents on the other side: Greenpeace and the WWF spent a million euros each during the same six-month period, and Oxfam managed 300,000 euros (a pretty good investment when we consider the vast millions it gets from Brussels in grants). What all these lobbies have in common, whether industrial or environmental, is a preference for corporatism and back-room deals. The EU has a special name for the procedure by which it makes law: ‘comitology’. Committees and technical experts meet and make trade-offs out of the public eye. Such a system is an invitation to lobbyists and pressure groups to reach arrangements behind closed doors that might not look very pretty if the details were known.

And from loc 1290:

Since then, the European project has returned to what is known as the Monnet Method. The EU’s canny founder, Jean Monnet, was the ultimate networker. He understood that politicians came and went but bureaucracies were permanent. The key to success, therefore, was to stack the incentives in such a way as to encourage officials to pursue an integrationist agenda. Some political scientists call this process ‘functionalism’ –although, as so often, that word has many different academic meanings.

From This Town, by Mark Leibovich, pg 163:

Calculations vary on how many former members of Congress have joined the influence-peddling set. By the middle of 2011, at least 160 former lawmakers were working as lobbyists in Washington, according to First Street, a website that tracks lobbying trends in D.C., in April 2013. The Center for Responsive Politics listed 412 former members who are influence peddling, 305 of whom are registered as federal lobbyists. Hundreds more were reaping huge, often six-and seven-figure salaries as consultants or “senior advisers,” those being among the noms de choice for avoiding the scarlet L. In addition, tens of thousands of Hill and administration staff people move seamlessly into lobbying jobs. In a memoir by disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the felon wrote that the best way for lobbyists to influence people on the Hill is to casually suggest they join their firm after they complete their public service. “Now, the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to them, that was it, we owned them,” said Abramoff, who spent forty-three months in the federal slammer after being convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges. “And what does that mean?” Abramoff continued. “Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do.”

From This Town, by Mark Leibovich, pg 98-99:

The biggest shift in Washington over the last forty or so years has been the arrival of Big Money and politics as an industry. The old Washington was certainly saturated with politics, but it was smaller and more disjointed. There were small and self-contained political consultancies that worked on campaigns or raised money for elected officials or contracted a service (i.e., direct mail). PR people tried to promote a client’s interests in the media, while lobbyists did the same by engaging directly with government actors. But that “sector,” such as it was, typically comprised mom-and-pop operations. It looked outward with some level of fear and humility. It generated some wealth but not enough to make a discernible impact on the city, its culture, and its sensibilities. 

Now those subindustries not only have exploded but have been folded under a colossal umbrella of “consulting” or “government affairs.” “No single development has altered the workings of American democracy in the last century so much as political consulting,” Jill Lepore wrote in the New Yorker. “In the middle decades of the twentieth century, political consultants replaced party bosses as the wielders of political power gained not by votes but by money.” 

Over the last dozen years, corporate America (much of it Wall Street) has tripled the amount of money it has spent on lobbying and public affairs consulting in D.C. Relatively new businesses such as the Glover Park Group—founded by three former Clinton and Gore advisers—provide “integrated services” that include lobbying, public relations, and corporate and campaign consulting. “Politics” has become a full-grown and dynamic industry, a self-sustaining weather system all its own. And so much of its energy is directed inward.