When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel once remarked on the vast power of the Israel lobby in the nation's capital, he did not think he was being anti-Semitic. He was stating a fact.
After the massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut sparked a burst of national demand for more controls on guns and ammunition, longtime Washington observers were convinced serious reform would never happen because of the vast power of the pro-gun lobby.
The New York Times recently documented how dozens of lobbyists for two huge drug companies walked away from the halls of Congress with special benefits worth nearly $1 billion for their clients.
And now literal swarms of lobbyists are descending on Capitol Hill hoping to insert tax breaks and loopholes for their clients if Congress really is serious about reforming the nation's incredibly complex four million-word tax code.
The Washington Post reported that 440 companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in a concerted effort to influence Congress to give them tax breaks that would deprive government coffers of hundreds of billions of dollars -- trillions over time.
Lobbying in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is essential to democracy. People lobby for research dollars to end various diseases. They lobby for curbs on pollution and against nuclear proliferation and for better health care.
But the Founding Fathers never envisioned that elections would cost billions of dollars and that businesses would get their way by financing the insatiable need of legislators for campaign cash.
The founding fathers never contemplated today's reality that most lobbying is done behind closed doors with the public never knowing how their tax dollars are being spent to give some unfair advantages and privileges.
When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he vowed to open the doors and windows to let fresh air invade the process. He vowed to tighten rules so people would know what goes on in Washington. Little came of his assurances that a new day had dawned.
The system remains broken and corrupt because the rich and powerful benefit from the status quo. Just as Italians controlled the papacy for hundreds of years, lobbyists have their tentacles ensnared around the arms of a remarkable number of members of Congress. Most lawmakers rationalize they are doing the right thing.
Some of the original Tea Partiers who came to Washington thought they would change the system. But in their zeal to make government smaller and end deficit spending, they made the system even worse. Now it is big news when the president and Republican leaders talk, even when they can't agree on huge issues affecting everyone.
The $85 billion in across-the-board cuts in federal spending caused by the impasse between Republicans in Congress and the White House over the budget have led to another frenzy of lobbyists on Capitol Hill desperate to forestall cuts to their pet projects.
From health clinics and schools to food inspectors and researchers dependent on government grants, nobody is getting what they expected to get this year. Contrary to some who think sequestration just means that increases in spending will be smaller, jobs and services consumers depend on are being cut.
With the serious pain yet to be felt, legislators are getting hundreds of requests for appointments. Obviously, lobbyists with personal connections to lawmakers are the ones who will get their noses in the door.
What's the solution? Disclosure, disclosure, disclosure. Americans should be able to know who is meeting with whom. It should be easy to get information on which companies benefit from acts of Congress and by how much. It should be illegal to keep such information secret.
Will it happen? Not right now, especially with much of the news media in dire financial straits. But eventually, if America's curious form of democracy is to survive, the blinders will be removed from our eyes and we will see clearly what is going on.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and Congress since 1986.)