In a representative democracy, such as we are supposed to have in the United States, we elect people to be our representatives. We do not require them to have any special knowledge or training. We elect them because we believe they can assimilate the information necessary to make sound decisions in the best interests of the American people.
Since the laws passed by our Congress apply to all our citizens, we anticipate that all interested parties will present their arguments, for and against, pending legislation. We expect our representatives to weigh the information presented to them objectively and to enact laws that benefit our nation and reject laws that are harmful to the American people.
As an example, we do not expect our representatives to know the science underlying the threat of global warming. Instead, we expect citizens who have the knowledge to present their arguments to our Congress for consideration. The Houses of Congress schedule hearings to allow these presentations. Since the hearing rooms will not hold the three hundred million people who might be affected by a law, the interested parties designate agents, called lobbyists, to present their arguments for them.
That's the theory, and it's a good one, but it doesn't work quite like that.
I functioned in the role of lobbyist in the mid-1950s, lobbying against The Transportation Act of 1958 ... which passed, in part because the lobbyists for the large trucking firms (aka The American Trucking Association) had greater access to the Senators on the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee than those who opposed the legislation ... like me.
In those years, I still believed our representatives were worthy of our trust. Gradually, I came to realize that the problem is not lobbying, it is that lobbyists are allowed free access to our representatives. In addition to donating huge sums to political parties, lobbyists seek their goals by suborning public officials with "favors". They wine them, dine them, provide them with exotic vacations, hire members of their family, promise them future employment and, by more subterfuges than I can relate, guarantee their fortunes. Since he who pays the piper calls the tune, our representatives do what the lobbyists ask, not what's best for our nation. The free access lobbyists have to our representatives, when added to the commitments made by party fund-raisers, undermines a truly great system.
From time to time (quite frequently, actually), a Jack Abramoff shows up and we have a brief flurry of interest. New laws are proposed, considerable lip-service is paid to cleaning up the mess, toothless legislation is passed, and then the whole thing dies down ... until next time.
There is a solution ... but do we have the stomach to demand it?
Our elected representatives are in service for the length of their term ... just like members of our armed forces ... and like members of our armed forces, they should be kept at a government installation. When I went in the service, I reported to a military installation and that became my home. The arrangements for our elected officials should be similar.
The facilities at the installation should be as palatial as need be, with golf courses, marinas, and all forms of educational and entertainment facilities, but access to our representatives should be restricted. Those wishing to affect pending legislation should present their arguments, publicly, in the hearing rooms provided for the purpose ... and that should be the absolute limit of their interaction with our elected representatives.
In addition to designing a better way to select those who represent us in our government, we must prevent special interests from propagating the corruption that currently permeates our political system.