The Middle East Connection

Pat Buchanan set off political sparks during the 1992 primaries with his charge that President Bush was allowing foreign agents to run his reelection campaign. Ross Perot later fanned the sparks into a prairie fire with accusations that former government officials earn $25,000 and $30,000 a month representing foreign interests. Bill Clinton joined in with a campaign blast at "high-priced lobbyists and Washington influence peddlers."

Rarely had this inside-the-beltway issue drawn such a stir in a presidential campaign. But it did not take long for the flames of revulsion to flicker and fade. The main targets of criticism, Charles Black and James Lake, remained as officials in Bush's campaign. Clinton's staff also included Americans who had lobbied for foreign interests, and he named a few to high positions in his administration even while issuing orders to tighten control over foreign lobbying.

In reality, no President or Congress has been able to avoid working with lobbyists if only because of their knowledge of government and their ability to get things done in Washington. Indeed, lobbying is an entirely legitimate form of free speech in a democracy. "The real issue," says Pat Choate in his book Agents of Influence, "is whether the manipulation of America's political and economic system by . . . foreign interests has reached the point that it threatens our national sovereignty...

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