Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Monday, June 3, 2013

Arizona -- Archetype of Influence Peddling?

In October 2011, Zocalo Public Square -- a joint project of the New America Foundation and the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University -- held a forum/panel discussion in Scottsdale on the topic, Is Arizona the Front Line of American Politics? 

The panel included New York Times bureau chief Marc Lacey (moderator), ASU Prof. Jennifer Steen, author Tom Zoellner and retired long-time state House Minority Leader Art Hamilton. They addressed a variety of issues related to the perception that Arizona is the "meth lab of democracy."

In this clip, Hamilton, who served 26 years in the Arizona House of Representatives explains that he thinks term limits has been a failure. He also said that even though he supported the Citizens Clean Elections Act, public financing of election campaigns has brought unforeseen negative impacts.

Hamilton's 26 years experience, Steen's academic research background and Zoellner's work with former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords certainly require us to consider the insight each shared. But despite their best intentions, I don't think this panel came anywhere near touching on the root cause of Arizona's political problems.

What you will not find on the recording is the portion of the Q and A session at the end where I posed a question about the influence of ALEC on public policy and lawmaking in our state. Yes, I was there that evening. The specifics of Hamilton's answer escape me now, but I still recall that he acknowledged the bias of the monstrosity of a lobbying cabal but not much more.

We have seen, over the last two decades, great interest of, by and for the people of Arizona regaining some semblance of control over what takes place in the legislature. Steen and Hamilton are most certainly correct in boiling it all down to the fact that a number reforms have been tried and thus far success has been extremely limited.

Yet, one "reform" measure that has been discussed many, many times concerns lobbyists spending money on lawmakers. They do so by making campaign contributions, buying gifts (food, tickets to sporting events, etc.) and, like in the case of ALEC, providing "scholarships" to conferences at luxury resorts (with plenty of personal amenities like golf and sight-seeing junkets).

Leading journalists in the largest newsrooms in Arizona have openly, to no avail, called for lawmakers to enact reforms -- at minimum to tighten reporting requirements -- to allow for closer scrutiny of the invisible hand that controls Arizona lawmaking.
In economics, the invisible hand of the market is a metaphor conceived by Adam Smith to describe the self-regulating behavior of the marketplace. The exact phrase is used just three times in Smith's writings, but has come to capture his important claim that individuals' efforts to maximize their own gains in a free market benefits society, even if the ambitious have no benevolent intentions. (emphasis in original)
Some elected officials have even said they would push for such legislation (Bill Montgomery). None has been forthcoming. And none ever will, at least not any introduced by lawmakers themselves.

Evan Wyloge and Hank Stephenson at the Arizona Capitol Times reported on the limitations of our state's lobbyist reporting system. Among their findings,
Lawmakers perennially introduce bills with ideas to improve transparency in lobbying and accuracy in reporting, but they have managed to avoid voting on the proposals.
Arizona State Professor emeritus Robert Cialdini's research on the subject of Influence is beyond question. 

Adam Smith's concept of the "free market" on the other hand, is taken for granted when it comes to Republicans (and some ambitious Democrats) making laws in our state. Maybe considering Smith's contention that the invisible hand of the market (regarding lawmakers' votes on legislation) will ultimately benefit society provides a subconscious mechanism (rationalization) which allows lawmakers to believe they aren't really selling out their constituents when they -- without resistence -- do the bidding of the most influential lobbyists at the Capitol.

Activists on the left and the right do exert some level of influence on state lawmaking -- the degree of which, to my knowledge, has not been measured. I now call on political scientists and investigative journalists to devise methods to measure influence of activists and of lobbyists in legislatures throughout the country. When they do, voters will better be able to make informed decisions on candidates and on ballot measures for additional reforms.

In the meantime, I submit that even if Arizona is not a "meth lab of democracy," it appears to be an archetype of clandestine influence peddling.


*NOTE -- at the beginning of the Zocalo clip, a graphic says the entire program is available to view on the Zocalo website. I looked diligently on that site and could not find it. However, DOES have the full length audio and video from this event.

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