It’s easy for reporters and editors to dismiss yet another press release about gobs of money thrown at politicians and lobbyists. We’ve seen that before, they say; what else is new? And it’s easy to cop out and blame readers for stumbling over the big numbers anyway. But the big numbers tell a big story. It’s crucial to remind the public of the intersection of money, lobbyists, Congress, and the presidential candidates. “It’s a constitutional right to petition your government, but the average citizen is not doing this petitioning,” says Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “The average person’s lobbyist is the elected official sent to Washington.” But, he adds, “Those officials are listening to the outsiders who are doing the petitioning.” The Constitution may guarantee lobbying, but it doesn’t say Congress has to listen to big money. The press needs to shine a light on just who is listening to whom.

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.