Special-Interest Lobbies - Economic lobbies of the late twentieth century

Panama Canal Treaty Lobbies The enormous growth of lobbies beginning in the 1970s, the tendency of presidential administrations to emphasize the national security aspects of most crucial issues, and increasing American public awareness of environmental issues worldwide all made the public debate over major foreign economic policy issues increasingly complex. Ideological issues became deeply intertwined with economic issues and often brought ideological lobbies to the side of economic issues in major policy controversies. The run-up to the ratification by Congress of the Panama Canal Treaties in 1978 was marked by a national debate, the outlines of which were largely defined by two opposing groups of lobbies. Opponents of the treaties joined under an umbrella lobby called the Emergency Coalition to Save the Panama Canal. Included were the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Conservative Union, American Security Council, Young Americans for Freedom, Conservative Caucus, Citizens for the Republic, and National Conservative Political Action Committee. Richard Viguerie, at the time the leading direct mailer of lobbying literature, called the campaign surrounding the Panama Canal Treaties the largest grassroots lobbying effort ever mounted, estimating that up to ten million letters had been directed to Congress. Some liberal Senate supporters of the treaties attributed the failure of their 1978 reelection bids directly to the conservative lobbying campaign. President Jimmy Carter's White House mounted a vigorous educational and lobbying campaign in support of the treaties. A Committee of Americans for the Canal Treaties enlisted such prominent dignitaries as W. Averell Harriman, former CIA director William Colby, and AFL-CIO head George Meany. Leaders of the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the American Institute of Merchant Shipping testified on the benefits of the treaties for the United States. The AFL-CIO carried out a program for grassroots support of the treaties, and the White House urged Panamanian president Omar Torrijos to use professional lobbyists in approaching the Senate.

Business, Industrial, Aerospace, and Trade Lobbies Congressional action to limit political contributions to individual members of Congress was a major factor behind the decision by corporations to increase lobbying expenditures in the 1970s as a substitute for the previous practice of creating "slush funds" for politicians. The Chamber of Commerce, with its 2,500 local chapters, 1,300 professional and trade associations, and nearly 70,000 corporate members, was the most important business lobbyist. The chamber did not engage extensively in foreign relations matters; it did, though, have a noteworthy record of rescuing foreign aid programs during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Ad hoc business organizations carried the burden of the business community in developing wide national support for various trade agreements such as the GATT, the International Trade Organization (ITO), and NAFTA.

No commodity in American trade is more heavily lobbied than sugar. Domestic growers of cane and beets persuaded New Deal officials that the trade liberalization then being strenuously advanced by secretaries of state should not apply to sugar, which, they argued, should instead be protected from the uncertainties of international trade. The federal government, lobbied by highly effective organizations such as the American Sugar Alliance, continued until the end of the century legislative protections greatly limiting the import of sugar, despite the free-trade tide. By 2000, lobbyists for the American manufacturers of foods requiring large quantities of sugar were competing with the sugar-growing lobby to influence Congress regarding the future of programs limiting sugar imports and subsidizing domestic growers.

The oil and aerospace industries fielded the most important business lobbies. The American Petroleum Institute represented more than three hundred corporations, and major oil companies lobbied directly and retained costly legal and public relations firms. The oil industry lobbies were principally concerned with energy legislation and the administration of national energy policies, but they also acted to counter the efforts of the Israeli lobby to block arms sales to Israel's Arab neighbors.

The military-industrial complex continued through the end of the century to employ hundreds of former Defense Department officials as well as many former members of Congress. It appears, however, that the lobbyists in this area seldom united on foreign policy legislation; instead they simply competed with one another in securing contracts to supply the various branches of service.

Law of the Sea Agreement and Business, Fishing, and Environmental Lobbies The negotiation of the UN Law of the Sea Treaty—a treaty aimed at ensuring broad fishing rights for maritime nations and assigning control of deep sea mineral rights to an international authority—greatly concerned American business interests and prompted vigorous lobbying on their behalf. A lobby representing the bulk of the U.S. fisheries industry, including the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Maine Sardine Packers Association, and Yakima Tribal Council, persuaded Congress in 1975 to adopt a two-hundred-mile territorial zone from which foreign fishing was prohibited.

Joining in the lobbying effort were some of the newer public interest lobbies such as those mounted by the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, and Friends of the Earth. Normally confined to domestic environmental issues, these organizations urged on Congress the need for strong national control of U.S. coastal zones in order to ensure high environmental and antipollution standards. American firms such as Kennecott Copper, Standard Oil of Indiana, Lockheed Missiles and Space, and Deepsea Ventures lobbied Congress for legislation to circumvent the international movement for the Law of the Sea Treaty and to allow American firms to exploit for profit seabed mineral resources. The proposals for the treaty, strongly supported by the many developing nations that had no means to reap the benefits of deep-sea mining, would establish an international authority with exclusive rights over the seabed. Nine years of intense international negotiations ended in 1982 with the adoption of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The convention, which included definitions of international navigational rights, territorial sea limits, the legal status of the resources in the seabed, and the conservation of marine resources, came into force in 1994 with the ratification by sixty signatories including the United States.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) In the lobbying over NAFTA and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) during the 1990s, the older issues of tariff and investment policy intersected with the more recent issues of human rights and environmental protection. The precursor agreement, the bilateral U.S.–Canadian agreement of 1989, was the culmination of a century of intermittent discussion between the two countries. The extension of free trade to Mexico under NAFTA, signed by President George H. W. Bush in December 1992, required three years of intense diplomatic negotiation and almost frantic lobbying.

NAFTA was as much about the regulation and protection of transnational investments as it was about lowering tariffs and facilitating commerce; in addition, it sought to clarify immigration policies, consumer safety regulations, and environmental standards and practices. Most of the businesses that had lobbied for much of the century for lower tariffs embraced NAFTA, but some economic leaders felt the agreement posed grave dangers. Influential business leaders such as Ross Perot led the effort to persuade Congress to reject the agreement. Trade union lobbies joined those of environmental groups and human rights organizations in opposition. They feared that NAFTA would not protect Mexican workers from exploitation, would lead to the degradation of the environment in Mexico, and would cause job losses in the United States when businesses moved south of the border.

This collision of lobbies resulted in a fracture of party loyalties and the usual coalitions in Congress. President Bill Clinton became the principal and eventually the successful lobbyist for NAFTA. He bargained with various individual members of Congress with promises of amending the agreement to provide protection for various regional products in exchange for favorable votes. The Senate approved the treaty in November 1993 by 61 to 38. In April 2001, when leaders from nearly all of the Western Hemisphere nations met in Quebec to agree on the outlines for the FTAA, more than 20,000 human rights, labor rights, and environmentalist demonstrators took to the streets with a spirit reminiscent of the antiwar rallies to protest the globalization of the economy.

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