Lobbying has a bad reputation, largely due to misconceptions about the practice. It's not bribery; it's legal under the United States Constitution. Although the term "lobby" isn't specifically used, the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" is noted in the First Amendment, translating into a modern day right to lobby.
Meaning of Lobbying
Lobbying is trying to persuade someone in government to create legislation, conduct an activity that will help a particular organization or support a particular policy or campaign. However, lobbying is more than persuading legislators. Lobbyists carry out research, attend congressional hearings and educate government officials and corporate officers on critical matters. Lobbyists also try to change public opinion via advertising campaigns or by influencing other influencers.
Lobbying can be done in person, by sending letters and emails or via social media. Anyone who petitions the government or contacts a member of Congress to voice an opinion is acting as a lobbyist, and it can be done on a volunteer or professional basis.
The Lobbying Disclosure Act requires individuals who are paid for lobbying at the federal level to register with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. Lobbying firms and self-employed lobbyists file quarterly disclosure reports. Organizations employing in-house lobbyists must file a single registration.
Benefits of Lobbying
Lobbyists can represent the health and safety interests of the public and bring about change for the better. For example, in 2012, an online lobbying campaign against "pink slime" in ground beef served in school cafeterias resulted in the closure of three of the manufacturer's four plants.
While lobbying is often done on behalf of large corporations, lobbyists can also represent the interests of minorities, acting as a mouthpiece for people who would otherwise never be heard and using their communication skills and legislative knowledge to influence people in power.
Lobbyists represent almost every U.S. institution and interest group, including labor unions, corporations, colleges and universities, churches, charities, environmental groups and state, local and foreign governments.
Because lobbying is privately funded, no public money is used to gather the required information. This saves the taxpayer money because public officials and legislators aren't required to allocate large amounts to data collection and the accumulation and analysis of public opinion research.
Criticisms of Lobbying
Most criticism of lobbying focuses on the potential for corruption. When lobbyists give large amounts of money to Congress via fundraising (which is legal), Congress may pass laws to keep lobbyists and their clients happy, but may not be in the best interests of the people of the United States.
Critics of lobbying also point out that there's an enormous return on investment for lobbying. In 2012 alone, private interests spent $3.5 billion on lobbying, which generated a return of 22,000 percent (for every dollar companies spend lobbying, they get an average $220 in federal support and tax savings).
The American Anti-Corruption Act is a model policy that makes it illegal to purchase political influence. It aims to stop lobbyist-sponsored fundraising and political bribery and prevent politicians taking "secret" money from special interests they regulate. Cities and states across the United States are following this model to help take the corruption out of lobbying.
Advantages of lobbying include forcing legislative change for the good of the public, representing the interests of minorities who would otherwise not have a voice and saving taxpayer money.
- Lobbying Disclosure: Lobbying Disclosure Act Guidance
- Food Safety News: BPI, Maker of ‘Pink Slime,’ to Close 3 of 4 Plants
- Markkula Center for Applied Ethics: Lobbying Ethics
- National Conference of State Legislatures: How States Define Lobbying and Lobbyist
- The American Anti-Corruption Act
- The Washington Post: What We Get Wrong About Lobbying and Corruption
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.