influence peddler

influence peddler

An influence peddler is one who uses their political influence to try and win favors for others. An influence peddler is a bit of a wheeler dealer, trading access in exchange for payment in one form or another.

A similar word for an “influence peddler” might be “lobbyist.” Like lobbyist, influence peddler is a very negative term. Influence peddlers are almost universally despised, and one politician after another has promised sweeping reforms aimed at limiting their powers.

Back in 1980, the Senate issued a report criticizing what it said was undue influence peddling on the part of Billy Carter, who was the brother of then-president Jimmy Carter. William Safire, writing in the New York Times, called the Senate report “an emphatic condemnation of White House venality.” 

And in 1988 Michael Dukakis, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, pledged that he would crack down on lobbyists by making it much harder for retired government officials to use their connections to lobby the government. The Chicago Tribune reported at the time,

“Dukakis promised, if elected, to issue an executive order forbidding former senior officials in his administration to lobby the federal government at any time before he leaves office.

To forestall conflicts of interest, Dukakis` proposal would expand the scope of current influence-peddling laws, which set delays of one to three years before someone who leaves government service may lobby various agencies.”

A few decades later, Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to increase transparency and to end the backdoor deals and influence peddling which, critics said, were a feature of the Bush administration. In Obama’s first days as president, he issued a series of orders aimed at just that, as the Washington Post reported:

In two executive orders and three presidential directives, Obama laid out stringent lobbying limits that will bar any appointees from seeking lobbying jobs while he is president and will ban gifts from lobbyists to anyone in the administration. He also ordered agencies to presume that records should be publicly released unless there are compelling reasons not to do so, and he loosened restrictions on the release of records related to former presidents and vice presidents.

Politicians tend to accuse the opposing party of influence peddling. It’s unusual for the party in power to admit that lobbyists are a serious and ongoing problem for them. Journalists also like to write about influence peddling, but most of the time they take aim at just one political party at a time.

Once in a while, though, newspapers publish a sort of “plague on all their houses” editorial, condemning the all-around culture of influence peddling. That’s what the LA Times did, for example, in a 2019 article about the relatives of powerful politicians cashing in on their influence. The Times argued that Hunter Biden had traded on his father’s (Joe Biden’s) influence, but that Trump’s children had done much the same thing – as had others: 

Hunter Biden is only the latest in a long line of relatives of elected leaders who appear to have used their names to open doors. In recent decades, Presidents Nixon, Carter, Clinton and George W. Bush all had troublesome family members.

Which brings us to three other children: Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump.