Dec. 15, 2017
IB Times interviewed Lee Drutman to ask about the influence lobbying had on the 2017 tax reform.
Much has been written about the differences between the current tax overhaul and the last time Congress rewrote the nation’s tax code in 1986. That tax bill had bipartisan support; today’s version passed both houses without a single Democratic vote. President Ronald Reagan announced his desire for a new tax regime at the beginning of 1984 and didn’t submit proposals until a year later; President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress seem hell bent on finishing tax reform in the first year of the new administration. The Senate held 33 days of hearings on the tax bill in 1985; in 2017 the Senate held just four days of hearings on its tax bill.
But perhaps the greatest difference between then and now is the size and power of the lobbying industry. Accurate figures for lobbying expenditures are hard to come by prior to the enactment of the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act, but even in 1998 lobbying expenditures totaled less than half of the more than $3 billion spent in 2016. While K street first became a serious political power in the 1980s, firms then were practically mom and pop operations compared to today’s lobbying giants.
“From a modern vantage point, lobbying in the 1980s was a relatively limited affair,” Lee Drutman wrote in his 2015 study of the industry, The Business of America Is Lobbying. Drutman, who is now a senior fellow at New America, a Washington D.C. think tank, interviewed 60 lobbyists and poured through countless lobbying disclosures to produceBusiness, perhaps the most comprehensive book on the role of the lobbyist in federal policy making. Last week, IBT spoke with Drutman about how lobbyists do their jobs, how the rush to push through a tax bill creates more opportunities for lobbyists, and how lobbying under the Trump administration harkens back to a previous era in American politics.