Behind the Closed Doors of Washington Lobbyists
A study by the watchdog group Public Citizen found that 43 percent of Members of Congress who left office between 1998 and mid-2005 went on to register as lobbyists.
In 2007, Thurber advised then-Senator Obama, who championed sweeping lobby reforms. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff had just gone to prison for cheating clients and bribing Congress. Lawmakers passed new reforms that required strict public disclosure of lobbying activities, and limited the gifts and trips lobbyists can buy for Members of Congress.
"Big money and lobbyists were clearly drowning out the aspirations of the American people," he said in Manchester, N.H., in June 2007. "I will launch the most sweeping ethics reform in history to make the White House the people's house, and send the Washington lobbyists back to K Street."
Today, Thurber has some surprising words about President Obama: "President Obama in his campaign in 2008 said he was going to change the way Washington works. He hasn't. He's failed. Because if you want to get a piece of legislation like his health care piece through, you HAVE to bring in big interests. He did. He brought in AARP, he brought in the American Hospital Association. He brought in the AMA in a coalition to support that."
And increasingly, lobbyists aren't just influencing legislation. They help write it.
Even Davis recalls being put off by that facet of a lobbyists' role several years ago: "There were 40 lobbyists in the room and we were arguing - as if we were elected to something - about the placement of a comma. I kid you not! The placement of that comma had a huge (I won't explain why, but trust me), it had a huge importance. And I thought to myself, 'If the American people were really here and we were on C-Span, there would be blood in the streets!'"
In the end, eHealth's lobbying was successful in changing the rules. Low income Americans will be allowed to use their subsidies to buy insurance on eHealth.
"Did you have to write a proposed regulation to hand them?" Attkisson asked.
"We've written a lot," Lauer replied. "At the end of the day, the regulation didn't use all of our language, and that was fine, but it caught the essence of this, and it included some things that these people in health and human services thought were important, which we agreed with . . .
"I would say that the process here is far from elegant. The process here involves influence."
"Democracy is a messy way of governing yourself, and there are imperfections that people vote for bills that they don't read and they vote for words that lobbyists have written," said Davis. "But it is the system that's better than any other system, and we just have to make it better, in my view, by having more transparency."