So Damn Much Money
The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government
By Robert G. Kaiser
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307266545, 416pp.)
Publication Date: January 20, 2009
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The startling story of the monumental growth of lobbying in Washington, D.C., and how it undermines effective government and pollutes our politics.
A true insider, Robert G. Kaiser has monitored American politics for The Washington Post for nearly half a century. In this sometimes shocking and always riveting book, he explains how and why, over the last four decades, Washington became a dysfunctional capital. At the heart of his story is money—money made by special interests using campaign contributions and lobbyists to influence government decisions, and money demanded by congressional candidates to pay for their increasingly expensive campaigns, which can cost a staggering sum. In 1974, the average winning campaign for the Senate cost $437,000; by 2006, that number had grown to $7.92 million. The cost of winning House campaigns grew comparably: $56,500 in 1974, $1.3 million in 2006.
Politicians’ need for money and the willingness, even eagerness, of special interests and lobbyists to provide it explain much of what has gone wrong in Washington. They have created a mutually beneficial, mutually reinforcing relationship between special interests and elected representatives, and they have created a new class in Washington, wealthy lobbyists whose careers often begin in public service. Kaiser shows us how behavior by public officials that was once considered corrupt or improper became commonplace, how special interests became the principal funders of elections, and how our biggest national problems—health care, global warming, and the looming crises of Medicare and Social Security, among others—have been ignored as a result.
Kaiser illuminates this progression through the saga of Gerald S. J. Cassidy, a Jay Gatsby for modern Washington. Cassidy came to Washington in 1969 as an idealistic young lawyer determined to help feed the hungry. Over the course of thirty years, he built one of the city’s largest and most profitable lobbying firms and accumulated a personal fortune of more than $100 million. Cassidy’s story provides an unprecedented view of lobbying from within the belly of the beast.
A timely and tremendously important book that finally explains how Washington really works today, and why it works so badly.
Robert G. Kaiser, with The Washington Post since 1963, has covered Congress, the White House, and national politics; reported from abroad as the Post’s correspondent in Saigon and Moscow; served as the paper’s national editor and managing editor; and is now associate editor and senior correspondent. He has written for Esquire, Foreign Affairs, and The New York Review of Books, and is the author or coauthor of six books, including Russia: The People and the Power. He has received awards from both the Overseas Press Club and the National Press Club. He lives in the town where he was born: Washington, D.C.