Lobbies and the Law

President-elect Bill Clinton has announced a new ethics rule for top-ranking appointees in his administration. For five years after leaving office, officials will be banned from all lobbying activities. The rule is aimed at solving a problem that plagues Washington: people who leave government office only to cash in on their connections by taking lucrative lobbying positions. Officials at the Agricultural Department have become lobbyists for food companies. Food and Drug Administration officials reincarnate as lobbyists for drug companies. I saw it happen all the time when I was in government. Public office has become a revolving door for people who turn around and sell inside knowledge to the highest bidder. Clinton's ethics rule ought to curb some of these abuses. Yet its effect will be mostly symbolic. For it treats the symptom only, and not the disease. The underlying disease is a wrong view of law. You see, the whole point of lobbying is to get special privileges for some group or industry. Some lobbyists are looking for handouts, like subsidies. Others are trying to get special tax breaks. Still others lobby for tariffs or quotas to protect their industry from competition. Most government officials are happy to play along with the game. They use the law to dole out pork and privilege to selected groups in exchange for political support. What a perverted view of law. A biblical view of law is one that plays no favorites and shows no partiality. In Deuteronomy 16:19 God tells the ancient Israelites: "You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality." The biblical ideal is what undergirds the rule of law, where the law applies to everyone equally. James Madison wrote that the great aim of government is to be "neutral between different parts of the Society"—so that the law neither privileges nor penalizes any particular group. To Westerners who have grown up with this ideal it may sound obvious. But believe me, in other parts of the world it is far from obvious. In many societies, law is seen as merely a tool of the rulers, to be wielded in their own interests. In Communist countries law is a tool to advance the party. In tribal societies, laws are passed to advance the ruling tribe. There is no sense of law as something that stands above all parties, applying to everyone impartially. What we're seeing in the United States today is a slide toward this pagan view of law. We are losing the rule of law, where laws are impartial. Instead, more and more laws are aimed at selected groups— doling out special privileges to those with the most powerful lobbyists. So two cheers to Mr. Clinton, for at least taking a symbolic stand against lobbying and influence-peddling. But it's going to take a lot more to reform the governmental process. It's going to take a massive education of all our citizens on what the rule of law really means. And that's a job for you and me. We need to teach people that—like Lady Justice—good law always wears a blindfold.


Chuck Colson



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