A lot of attention is being paid this morning to a story by Tim Carney* revealing that General Motors will continue its multimillion-dollar lobbying operation in Washington even after the federal government takes ownership of it. Many are questioning whether it is appropriate for a government owned firm to hire high priced lobbyists to influence policy.
GM spent $13.1 million on lobbying in 2008. In the first quarter of this year, while surviving on federal bailout money, the company’s lobbying tab was $2.8 million.
Frankly, we’re relieved that GM plans to keep lobbying the government. It’s a sign that both the government and GM still view themselves as having different interests, which US taxpayers should certainly hope is the case.
All along the debate over the bailout of GM, the specter of government control has haunted the company. Would the government use the takeover of GM in order to force the company to adopt policies and products favoured by special interests? These would hurt the revenues of the company and exercise a perverse effect on the broader markets. The news that GM plans to lobby may mean the company has enough sense of self-interest intact that it will attempt to resist becoming the plaything of policy-makers.
On the other hand, there has also long been the danger that GM’s managers would use the government rescue as a chance to basically capture the government, using taxpayer dollars to privately profit. The fact that the company still feels the need to lobby indicates that, at least for now, this capture is not complete.
On a broader, more general level we’re relieved to hear that freedom to petition the government will continue despite the growth of the government’s role in the economy.
[*Yep, you guessed it! Tim Carney is my brother.]
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