Lobbyist Influence in Policy, Christie Calls for Sunshine
June 8th, 2015
Chris Christie held a town hall style meeting at the Village Trestle in Goffstown, NH. It was a Monday afternoon. I showed early to get a good seat. A few seats were reserved for organizers and special guests, but I grabbed a bar stool at a free standing bar next to the reserved seats. I was feet away from Christie when he made his stump speech.
Last month I had asked him about the immigrant detention quota. I may have been the first person to ask him about it since he started campaigning. He told me then about how prisons work in New Jersey and he stressed that he wasn't so concerned about private prisons making profits as much as he was concerned with each state finding the right solution that meets their needs. When I persisted with my question, he gave up on talking to me and said that he wasn't going to answer my question. He has since been asked about the immigrant detention quota and he was more prepared to take the question head on.
He gave a lengthy response, so I've included only the relevant points below.
Me: I want to thank you because the last time you were here in New Hampshire you said "we should not allow private industry to determine our government policy." Our federal budget guarantees profits to private detention facilities through a quota system for detaining immigrants. Prison corporations spend millions lobbying for policies like this. How will you stop corporate lobbyists from dictating our immigration policies?
Christie: "We should not allow corporations to be determining our immigration policy. To the extent that our immigration policy is driven by the desire to make profits for private jail facilities, that should not be the way we make these decisions.
"The policy decision should be made based upon what we think is best for the safety, security and prosperity of our country.
"In the end, lobbyists are always going to be a problem in our country, and not just for the reason you are talking about. We’ve talked before about the tax code and lobbyists get hired all the time to get special tax breaks for their clients. We have to shine light on it. And that’s why I called on you first. I want everybody to be aware of the fact if you have enough money to buy an influential person to lobby for you, you can get a lot out of this congress. The thing that will stop that is a strong president who says, 'No! No, I’m not going to give into this stuff.'
"I have always viewed myself as the adult supervision. You gotta be the person who when the lobbyists do their thing down the hall with the legislature or the congress, you’re the one who shines a light on it and says 'No. That’s not the way we’re gonna make policy.'
"If I were ever to become president, we would not make policy on immigration or any other issue based upon what lobbyists want to do in terms of making money for their clients. We would make those decisions based upon smart good policy for our country. That’s why I won’t tell you I won’t contract ever with private firms. Because in my mind, to provide drug rehabilitation, alcohol rehabilitation treatment, absolutely right to do it. Smart to do it. On immigration, we may have to go a different route.
"So there’s not one answer to that question. You are right about the fact that what happens here is, people hire lobbyists, they get them to do things they want to have done. The backstop on that is a president of the United States with the veto power who says 'You know what, I’m simply not going to let policy be made that way.' It’s much easier for one person to say no than to get 535 people to agree on almost anything."