Business Week ran an article recently that provides a clear look at how government markets its influence to business. Southern:
The New Power in Power focuses on Southern Company's new position as the "800-pound gorilla" of energy companies now
that Enron is history. 
"Southern Co.'s strategy in Washington", Laura Cohn writes, "hasn't been terribly different from that of other successful
corporations: lavish millions on politicians and hire a battery of A-list lobbyists to make sure its voice is heard in the
corridors of power."
According to Business Week, Southern has seven political action committees which have spent over $1 million since 1999,
and can boast of 'a pack of high-powered lobbyists' that includes the likes of Haley Barbour and C. Boyden Gray, two Republican
big-wigs who break bread with the president.
Southern's investment pays dividends. After Barbour rushed off a letter to Cheney in March, 2001, Bush did an about-face
and claimed he did not favor tougher standards for carbon dioxide emissions.
While the Bush administration was denying that Barbour's note had any pull, environmentalists were charging Southern with
manipulating the "political process." Cohn's article concludes cheerfully, saying Southern is well-prepared to fight
the battles in Washington with its "silver-tongued lobbyists" leading the charge.
As we've seen with Enron, buying political influence won't guarantee a company's success, but failing to buy enough of
it, as Microsoft painfully learned, makes them tempting targets.
Is government refereeing conflicts -- or fixing fights?
Government has always interfered in the economy, but stepped up its meddling during the Civil War. Its chief role
was to accelerate business expansion, particularly the growth of railroads. It bumbled along as a close friend
of business until the Progressive Era of 1896 - 1916. Then the relationship got intimate.
The conventional view of this period depicts the federal government coming to the rescue of a helpless public against the
rapacious talons of Big Business. The enemy, we're told, was the free market -- laissez faire capitalism -- which allowed
predators like Morgan, Rockefeller, and Harriman to exploit the country for their insatiable greed.
The facts, however, tell a different story. They show Big Business unhappy with an insufficiently regulated market
because it fostered competition.
Believing they had a right to consumers' dollars without challenge, the top industrialists and bankers leaned on their
buddies in the federal government.
At the turn of the twentieth century, almost everyone -- business critics and supporters alike -- thought bigness in business
was both inevitable and good. It was inevitable as one "dog" ate another through merger, and good because it was assumed
that great size meant improved efficiency of operations.
Most observers also believed mergers would inexorably culminate in monopolies, enabling the big trusts to choke competition
and dictate prices. Thus, the country saw a swarm of merger activity from 1897 - 1901, as investors sought profits and
businesses gobbled up competitors. When mergers instead brought lower profits and greater competition, the merger movement
The big trusts were slow to react and failed to anticipate new technology. Despite the mergers, the number of manufacturing
firms in the U.S. increased 29.4 percent from 1901 - 1910. U.S. Steel saw its share of the nation's production of ingots
and castings go from 62.9% in 1901 - 1905, to 52.5% in 1911 - 1915. Standard Oil saw its market share drop from 1899
to 1911, the year of its dissolution. 
Similar patterns evolved in other major industries -- automobile, agricultural machinery, telephone, copper, and meat packing. The
dominant firms could not eliminate competition or control prices -- with the existing tepid level of regulation.
"The Progressive Era was essentially put through by the Morgans and their allies in order to cartelize American business
and industry," writes Murray Rothbard, "to take up more effectively where the cartel and merger movements had left off."  Business
was in the forefront agitating for federal intervention, working closely with reformers. Regulation was designed by
business, for business. J. P. Morgan's people went "duck hunting" with Senator Nelson Aldrich at Jekyll Island, Georgia
to grind out the details of the Federal Reserve System, now in its 88th year of funding government irresponsibility.
Business interests pushed for and obtained the Federal Trade Commission Act, which authorized a five-bureaucrat panel to declare
"unfair" methods of competition illegal.
Business gave us the beginning of the leviathan state of today. The government they wanted to shake hands with
now has them paying A-list lobbyists to stave off their extinction.
1. Southern: The New Power in Power, Laura Cohn, Business Week online, requires subscription)
2. The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916, Gabriel Kolko, Quadrangle Books,
Chicago, 1963, p. 24.
3. Kolko, p. 37
4. The Case Against the Fed, Murray N. Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama, 1994, p. 86.