The current issue of Washington Monthly has an article that’s well worth reading, whether you’re a player in the cleantech industry, or whether you simply want the cleantech industry to succeed. In short, the article — “A New Agenda for Political Reform” — shows how enormous and pervasive the influence-peddling industry is. The following excerpt gives a feel for what we’re talking about, and specifically on how serious the fossil fuel industry is about playing and winning this game.
Lobbying expenditures have grown even more, from an estimated $200 million in 1983 to $3.24 billion in 2013—a sixfold increase, controlling for inflation. And this doesn’t count the proliferation of strategic consulting and issues management and research organizations that now fill Washington. One recent analysis by the Center for Public Integrity found that between 2008 and 2012, the American Petroleum Institute paid Edelman, a public relations conglomerate, $327.4 million for advertising and PR, far more than the association spent on lobbying. Moreover, almost half of Fortune 500 companies also now have their own grassroots-mobilization consultants, finds Edward T. Walker in Grassroots for Hire. All of this intrudes on the already limited attention of policymakers.
While many groups are indeed represented, 80 percent of lobbying spending is on behalf of business. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying (and collectively account for about one-third of all lobbying expenditures), consistently between ninety and ninety-five of them represent business.
Clearly, the American Petroleum Institute isn’t spending $300+ million in just five years because it think that money is being wasted. To the contrary, as Tigercomm President Mike Casey wrote in late 2010, the fossil fuel industry knows that this money is being well spent at playing, and winning, what it knows is a “full-contact game.” And the fossil fuel folks know that this game is played out in the corridors of political power, both in Washington, DC as well as in state capitols.
The question for the cleantech industry is whether it will make the needed investment in advocacy and public case making, both to counter the fossil fuel industry’s attacks on cleantech, but also to proactively advance a cleantech-friendly agenda in the corridors of power across the country. Sure, ignoring the political world might be the preferred inclination for many in cleantech. And that might even be ok, except for one major problem: the political world can do a lot of damage – or, potentially, a lot of good – to cleantech, particularly if the voices in the room are hostile to our industry. As is the case right now.