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Democracy in Action

As both Drutman and Katz emphasize, before the 1970’s lobbying in America was a paltry enterprise.  In the immediate postwar era, under the pro-business Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, few companies hired in-house lobbyists; instead, they worked through trade associations or independent lobbying firms.  Under Lyndon Johnson regulatory legislation addressed a host of social and economic issues, while Ralph Nader emerged as the nation’s leading antibusiness activist. Corporate America, however, was slow to react to the government’s more aggressive posture.  Only by the late 70’s did any significant growth in lobbying become evident.  Drutman notes that, as the budget “for federal regulatory agencies [rose] from $1.5 billion to $4.3 billion” between 1971 and 1975, corporate America seemed paralyzed.  But leadership provided by trade groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers gradually awakened corporate heads to the need for establishing an aggressive presence in Washington.  By 1981 the number of firms with lobbyists in the capital rocketed from 171 to almost 2,500, while the number of firms sponsoring political action committees quadrupled.  During the Reagan years, lobbyists sought actively to influence policymaking at every level—a strategy that paid big dividends (as in the case of the 1981 Economic Tax Recovery Act, which ensured a huge $169...

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