The Once and Future Lobby:

Jeffrey Birnbaum takes a look at the growth of lobbying in Washington, D.C.

Every 10 years or so, reformers have sought to rein in these paid persuaders, but the influence of lobbyists has only expanded. Today, twice as many registered lobbyists -- about 30,000 -- ply their trade than did so just six years ago. And overall spending on federal lobbying has nearly doubled, to $200.2 million per month in 2005 from $116.3 million per month in 1999. By all accounts, business is booming.

Don't expect this trend to abate anytime soon. As government grows, and becomes more complex, the demand for lobbyists only increases. Even companies that once shunned active lobbying have given in and acquired their own hired guns, even if only to defend their interests from predation by others.

Government has become so complex that only experts -- say, ex-congressional staff members turned lobbyists -- can decipher and navigate it. Anyone who wants to penetrate the system has little choice but to hire lobbying firms. And for good reason: Washington is no longer the insular and distant regulator it was before World War II. It insinuates itself into almost every facet of Americans' lives, from school assessments to corporate accounting to homeland security.

In turn, lawmakers have come to rely on lobbyists to provide much of their campaign cash, most of the information and voter support that propel their legislative initiatives, and many of the off-hour perks that keep them well-traveled and well-fed. These benefits are so valuable that Congress -- even faced with an ornery, anti-Washington electorate -- is poised to pass, as soon as this week, a sliver of an already weak lobby-reform bill, and discard anything that would limit its contact with lobbyists. Almost no one on Capital Hill wants to discourage the sugar daddies on K.

This is how Washington works today, and so long as the federal government is a growth industry it is not going to change. The larger the government, the greater the demand lobbyist representation.

"For the more than 30 years I've been around here, people have always complained about lobbyists," said Wright H. Andrews Jr. of the lobbying firm Butera & Andrews. "But they don't understand. My own mother didn't understand. She cried when I told her what I was going to do." But he explained, "After people have been here a while, they find out that the lobbying community is an essential part of the legislative process."