06/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bard Blog on Money & Lobbyists

While Shakespeare wrote about "the milk of human kindness," California's Jesse ("Big Daddy") Unruh quipped, "Money is the mother's milk of politics."

Zounds, is it ever! A mere glance back at the taffy tug over health care reform boggles the mind. Washington's good-government NGOs believe, like Hamlet, "The times are out of joint;

O cursed spite! That ever I was born To set it right."

Such groups, like the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity (CPI), are better at shining a light than setting right what's "out of joint." Nonetheless, this is important for, as Portia rightly says in Merchant of Venice, "How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world!"

According to CPI, some 1,750 businesses and organizations hired an army of 4,525 lobbyists for a princely $1.2 billion to influence healthcare bills and other issues. That's a stunning eight lobbyists and $2.3 million for each Member of Congress, according to analysis from disclosure documents.

In his typical way, Shakespeare nailed why all these organizations paid all this money.

Yet contrary to the prevailing public presumption, this money doesn't buy votes. It's just not the case that this gaggle of expensive lobbyists operate in a simple way: "Take this purse of gold, and let me buy your friendly help." (All's Well That Ends Well) and "Rich men deal gifts, expecting in return, twenty for one." (Timon of Athens).

All the money, however, does usually yield an audience with Members, as the Bard correctly says in Merry Wives of Windsor, "If money go before, all ways do lie open," and in Cymberline, "'Tis gold which buys admittance."

Anyone touring the Congress during the final rounds of Congressional action on the Obamacare debate saw these lobbyists working the corridors off the House and Senate Chambers, much in the way Shakespeare described: "This place is famous for the creatures of prey that keep upon it" (Winter's Tale).

The remedy lies not in the constant attempts at campaign finance reform, lobbying regulations and legislation. All have failed miserably, and repeatedly.

Save one - full and timely disclosure. Mandate that all lobbying, and all finances associated with it, be reported on the Internet the day of the meeting, or expenditure. Then both the press and political opposition can jump on the disclosure, and at least shame the Members with publicity.

That has a chance of some success. At least, unlike all the regulations and laws, it isn't a proven failure.

As the Bard says, eventually what counts is not the money but the "good name" associated with a Representative or Senator:

"Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash.
'Tis something, nothing.
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands,
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed" (Othello).