Zachary Antoyan is a political science senior and Mustang News liberal columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Assume I work for a company that makes cheese doodles. I work my way up in the company and become an executive on some hierarchy of cheese doodleness. During my stint as an executive, an independent study is published linking cheese doodles to blindness. Something about the cheese-dust we spray the doodle with. Anyway, a national conversation is had about cheese doodles and health, and it is decided that the FDA needs to have a regulatory committee for the orange dusty snack to protect the health of citizens. Since the cheese-doodle industry is a rather lucrative one, my company doesn’t want any sort of regulations hurting our profit margins. So we lobby the Cheese Doodle Committee.
Or more specifically, I lobby the committee. And I actually get to know the members of the committee pretty well over a period of time. I have ample opportunities to show my knowledge of cheese doodle-related issues during committee hearings, and I consistently express my company’s willingness to adhere to the regulations put forth (though I aim to alter them heavily in the favor of the industry). In a few years, when the committee has to choose new members, I am nominated for a position on the commission because of my experience and connections.
The same person who lobbied for the cheese doodle industry, who worked to stifle regulations that might hurt industry profits, is now writing and voting on those very regulations designed to protect the citizen and consumer. Sound like bullshit? That’s because it is. This concept is known as a revolving door. Industry lobbyists and professionals find their way into regulatory positions, or vice versa, and use their connections to influence policy and regulations. It’s like if during the World Series the umpires were all former players of the Royals, the Royals franchise was paying them and they were all wearing Royals uniforms while umpiring.
The worst part is this happens in all manner of government regulatory commissions. Eric Cartman put it best when he said, “I at least like to be wined and dined before I get f**ked.”
Take, for instance, the case of Meredith Attwell Baker. Acting as Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner from 2009 to 2011, she voted to allow the merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. Four months later, she left her position at the FCC to become Vice President of Governmental Affairs at Comcast-NBC Universal.
But Baker is known as “a reliable pro-business voice,” and while this kind of perspective can be invaluable for informing a commission on an issue, it does not bode well for the protection of consumers. Especially when we consider conflicts of interest regarding a company she supported in a merger and then subsequently joined the ranks of.
The FCC is rife with these kinds of conflicts. Its current chairman, Tom Wheeler, was president of the Cellular Telecom and Internet Association (CTIA) before his current role, and president of the National Cable and Telecom Association (NCTA) before that.
Both of these associations are lobbying arms of major wireless and wired providers including Verizon, Sprint, Comcast and AT&T. Before Wheeler, there was Tom Powell, who literally traded places with Wheeler. Powell was chairman of the FCC and left to become CEO of NCTA in 2005. The FCC is designed to regulate these companies and businesses, but the people running it are so well-connected to the industry that it’s like the industry wants them there or something.
This kind of behavior — companies influencing policy in their favor by promising good job security after a regulatory term — amounts to corruption, though few in government would admit it. You might recognize the name Dick Cheney, a prominent member of the oil company Halliburton before he became vice president of the entire country. From the federal to state and local levels, the revolving door phenomenon pervades government.
Before Lynn Helms became director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division, a regulatory commission that oversees drilling operations in the state, she worked for Texaco and Hess Corp, a major oil and gas producer. And now the commission is entrenched in a battle with farmers who claim the very drilling she regulates is poisoning crops and making farmland unusable.
A recent event was reported by the commission to have spilled only 300 barrels of waste water onto a resident’s property, whereas another state estimate placed the spill at 50,000 barrels. The commission has fought this number vigorously, reducing the culpability of the oil and gas companies significantly. All the while, farmers are stranded, working land that produces little if any yield. Damn, big oil pisses me off. We’ll talk about that next week.
Anyway, these issues push my buttons more than a never-ending stoplight. Regulatory commissions are supposed to protect the smaller groups — the groups that do not have the ability to speak for themselves — but instead, they are used to forward the agendas of those with more money. Story of this democracy’s life.
This is Zachary Antoyan, reminding you that Smittywerbenjagermanjenson was No. 1. HE WAS NO. 1! Have a fantastic week everyone.