Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lobbying and the Myth of Technical Reasoning

Thanks to political cotton candy for the tip.  Treasury Secretary Geithner is responding to outrage over the cozy relationship between lobbyists and the release of TARP I and TARP II (bank bailout) funds by setting up new restrictions on the the ability of Treasury employees to contact those corporate and political interests advocating for a piece of the pie.  The regulations are also going to make the contacts between lobbyists and public officials more public. Interestingly, the Times refers to Geithner's motivation as being one of "preventing political interference with decisions about which companies received bailout money."  Not surprisingly, a constitutional law scholar was brought in to remind folks that it would be unconstitutional to prevent a lobbyist from contacting a public official, but not unconstitutional to regulate who a public official can talk too.  If I am reading this correctly, the public employee has fewer constitutional protections than the lobbyist. It would be worth learning more about the rules over tax law that the Secretary plans to model in the case of TARP II lobbying and how public employment law interacts with free speech law. 

As a cautionary point, I am suspicious of wanting to decrease political interference. Barney Frank noted in a New Yorker that the Obama Administration downplays the importance of ideological differences. One wonders if this is why Frank's name appears  in a way that implies he was  participating in undue political interference. I am a little unsure why we want to "prevent political interference"  but rely  on "investment criteria and the facts of the case." Isn't  this the same assumption about technical reasoning  of   financial wizardry that got us into this problem in the first place?  The politics are on Obama's side, he should  lead with a plan not failed financial algorithms.  Of course we want policy based on our best knowledge and best practices and I respect that Obama's consent to lead is based partly on competence; but, we should not go running into the belly of technical reasoning, especially if that technical reasoning got us into this trouble in the first place.  Such algorithms exist to disguise the political interference done by finance capital they do not remove politics from the equation, only the people's politics.

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