Audit D.C. Notes: The FT Looks at the Lobbyist Set; WSJ on Credit Agencies, NPR on the Dow, Etc.

The Financial Times takes a look something that all too often gets treated like wallpaper in Washington, the persistent power of lobbyists. As Stephanie Kirchgaessner, my former colleague, explains:

But little has changed in the way Washington works or the way the game is played. Despite attempts by the president to institute reform in the executive branch, lobbyists are spending more than ever to push their agenda on Capitol Hill. In 2009 the industry spent more than $3bn, breaking all records.

The piece examines the big role lobbyists play in helping to reelect incumbents, the shortcomings of current disclosure requirements, and what can only be described as the arrogance of the lobbyist set (emphasis mine).

Lobbyists shrug off suggestions that the administration’s ethics policies are reining in their influence. They say little has changed since Mr Obama took office – except that they are considered political pariahs and are no longer allowed to serve on the boards of federal commissions. That does not mean they are not irked by the reforms.

This is part of the permanent government the public knows far too little about. The FT piece is a good one, but there’s a lot of room for more reporting here.

—Credit agencies don’t get near enough attention from the business press. But the Journal takes an interesting look at one of the many ways they really do have an impact on everyday life.

Concerned about rising rates of employee theft and fiduciary issues, more employers are conducting credit background checks on applicants for some positions. Companies say the financial information can offer insight into a candidate’s level of responsibility. But people whose previously solid credit has been damaged by the economic downturn say they are victims of circumstances beyond their control.

—NPR’s Ombudsman weighs in on something I’ve long wondered about: is there really any reason to do those little stock market updates throughout the day? I can’t say the answer is particularly compelling. (I tend to agree with Ryan Chittum, my colleague at The Audit, that those stock reports almost never give returns in inflation-adjusted terms, making most of us feel a bit cheerier than we really should.) But it is interesting for the business press to consider, and I do like NPR’s candor.

It seems to boil down to the simple fact that they always have given those market snapshots, and, closely related, that listeners complain if they don’t. But there’s also this:

Stock market indexes help newscasters “hit the post,” or finish speaking at exactly the right second. For example, some newscasts begin at one minute after the hour. Three minutes later they break so local stations can air their own newscasts (many stations continue with the NPR newscasts, however). The timing must be exact or the newscaster will either be cut off abruptly or speak over the local announcers.

The Dow “is copy that gives them flexibility,” Garcia said. Reading the Dow and Nasdaq helps newscasters “hit the post” because they can read as little as 5 seconds or as many as 15 seconds before signing off.

Sounds a lot like traffic and weather, doesn’t it? But traffic and weather are actually useful. This mindless repetition of the Dow is like a running advertisement for the New York Stock Exchange—and a pretty misleading way to judge the health of the economy, on the hour, every hour.

(h/t Romenesko)

—With so much China coverage out there, the historical context in Gideon Rachman’s FT column is a nice change of pace. Rachman reread Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, and draws some lessons for today.

I am not dredging up these old comments to make fun of Prof Kennedy. The point is simply that facts and conventional wisdom can change very fast. At the moment, China’s rise looks just as unstoppable as Japan’s did in the late 1980s. But there are plenty of analysts who see Japanese-style bubbles inflating in the Chinese economy. Perhaps the Chinese bubble will also go pop, leaving those who have predicted a “Chinese century” scratching their heads in embarrassment and surprise.

Rereading important books is always a good idea. Any suggestions for what I should pull off the shelf?

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Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at