Muzzle all the lobbyists? Not allowed (unfortunately).

Mark says we should prohibit the Big Three from lobbying against the public interest. Sadly, that’s almost certainly unconstitutional. Simply firing the executives, not so much.

Mark writes (just below) that if we do bail out some or all of the Big Three, stipulating good reasons to do so, we should pay off the bondholders at the current, very steep discount, and a Michael Corleone offer (“nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license”) to stockholders. So far, what he said.

But then he goes on to advocate “requiring the companies to fire all their lobbyists and end all their contributions to right-wing causes.” He’s right to point out that corporate managers regularly (and in the case of the Big Three, historically) place their own class advantage above their own companies’ interests, let alone the public’s. But he’s wrong to think there’s something we can do about it.

I count as an expert on political ethics. In my expert opinion, corporate lobbying as a human activity has no redeeming moral qualities. (I’m quite serious about this. I think that most political roles and offices have something to be said about them from the perspective of democratic theory and the virtues that promote democratic performance. But I’ve never written anything about lobbyists’ ethics or their democratic contribution because articles containing zero words are rarely accepted for publication.) However, an activity doesn’t need to have redeeming moral qualities in order to be protected by the First Amendment. (No jokes about religion, please. Unless they’re really good jokes.)

A legal ban on lobbying by any given corporation would be thumpingly unconstitutional. And a bailout made conditional on an end to lobbying would probably be an “unconstitutional condition” (though I’m not ConLawyer enough to be sure–Jonathan, help me out?). Similarly with ending “contributions to right-wing causes.” Corporations are already prohibited from directly funding campaigns; the funding of “causes” goes through foundations, and this too rapidly becomes constitutionally hard to distinguish from funding a library or opera house. One could probably ban any bailed out company from making any charitable contributions–but one couldn’t pick and choose on the basis of the cause contributed to. I’ve actually thought hard about how to get around this. Most of my fantasies involve having some unofficial Obama fixer call up a corporate executive and make the illegal condition–with the intention of denying everything later (yet somehow being able to enforce the secret promise). But then I woke up.

No, lobbying can’t be banned. But those who hire the lobbyists can be thrown out. That Mark’s ruthlessness won’t work only establishes the case for more, and simpler, ruthlessness. This is one more argument for receivership. We can’t give the executives a gag. So there’s nothing left but the sack.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.