We’ve all probably heard the word ‘lobbyist’ thrown around the news, but exactly what is a lobbyist? And why is it important to know?
Lobbyist are political professionals who work to lawfully influence policies, decisions, and actions of government officials (typically legislators & regulatory agency members).
Understanding who a lobbyist is & what they do is helpful in understanding how they affect our daily lives. Once we know that, we’re better able to understand the issues we face & what role lobbying plays to enact solutions (or to delay them).
Lobbying firms are often viewed with suspicion, but this industry is part of the Constitution of the United States & is protected by the First Amendment:
“to petition the government for a redress of grievances”
So let’s dive into the world of lobbying.
What is Lobbying?
Lobbying is the act of influencing the policies or decisions of elected officials, with the aim of changing laws and regulations.
Often, the term ‘lobbying’ refers to accessing legislators in direct, face-to-face meetings. But lobbying is not exclusive to just these channels. These days, lobbying is often undertaken virtually, over the phone, or even through more indirect means such as social media.
Lobbying is, ultimately, any attempt to influence political decisions made by political or bureaucratic officials.
Lobbying isn’t inherently bad or good.
But due to the fact that hiring a lobbyist or producing persuasive material costs money, the wealthy & large corporations are able to utilize lobbying most effectively to amplify their message & advance their agenda disproportionately compared to popular opinion and policy objectives.
While it may be an imperfect system, lobbying is an undeniable reality in American politics.
However, there are efforts underway now to open the influence lobbying offers through crowdfunding.
Lobbying is undertaken by many types of groups:
What is a Lobbyist?
A lobbyist is an individual that petitions public officials with the intention of directing policy & legislation.
Lobbyist work on behalf of:
- an individual
- a cause
- an organization
- a corporation
- another politician
Basically, they work for any interest, individual or group that desires to influence the government.
Lobbyists will even often pen the legislation on behalf of government officials.
That is how deeply entrenched lobbyists can be.
Who are Lobbyists?
The lobbyists we most often think of are professional lobbyists, hired by clients for their access to government officials. They work on the behalf of their client or clients to realize legislative or policy outcomes. These lobbyist become professionally tethered to a cause, a special interest group, an industry, a corporation, or even an individual. But there are other types of lobbyist out there, too.
They may be in-house employees of a business or organization rather than a contractor. Or they may represent a cause or agenda pro bono. They may even lobby for a change they are personally invested in & may do so at their own expense or using crowdsourced funds.
Lobbying In Practice
There are a great number of lobbyists with diverse specialties, representing a vast array of clientele. They represent everything from corporations to industries to moral legislation, religious & ethnic concerns, labor unions, even individuals. The impact of these organizations can be greatly enhanced by their lobbying activities.
One of the main focuses of lobbying is helping raise money for congress members’ campaign funds. On average, a congress member needs to raise $1.6 million to campaign and win their seat.
Companies with special interests can’t go directly to a congress member & give them money. However, they can give that money to a lobbyist who then organizes a fundraising event for the congressmember. The proceeds from this fundraiser can then be donated to the congressmember, making the whole transaction legal.
Why are Lobbyists Given a Bad Reputation?
Lobbyists have been vilified for their role in manipulating the apparatus of the legislature in order to benefit the few rather than the many. Because of the nature of the business, lobbyists typically amplify the opinions, agendas, and legislative objectives of individuals & interests able to contribute the most money.
This can effectively work against democracy by monetizing the voices politicians hear, rather than amplifying them based on popular opinion. Lobbyists essentially inform legislators of the perspectives they represent, potentially offering politicians biased supporting information, helping to confirm the legitimacy & benefit of the policy positions they are trying to make a reality.
They have a dual purpose – to inform officials, but also to sell them on the goals of their clients. Due to the nature of this industry, as it currently stands, there is a risk to our democracy as political informants are hired to represent a certain goal or viewpoint, rather than present well-rounded & unbiased facts.
Lobbying is a form of representation. It is a form of persuasion. It is through these professionals that most influence is exerted upon our democracy. And skillful lobbyists and strategists know how to manipulate the media & public to help their clients’ achieve their political goals.
Corporate lobbyists & government affairs executives aren’t trained to help pass needed legislation. Their specialty is to “stop or co-opt” new rules that disrupt business-as-usual — block, tackle, or turn every proposal into a benefit.
In a way, they have no choice. No single interest group can sacrifice a Congressional perk, unless others do too. We know former executives who have tried, and many others who want to, but can’t.
Before they can do what’s best for the environment & the nation, they need help — your help — to change the rules of the game.