Lobbying

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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The process of influencing public and government policy at all levels: federal, state, and local.

Lobbying involves the advocacy of an interest that is affected, actually or potentially, by the decisions of government leaders. Individuals and interest groups alike can lobby governments, and governments can even lobby each other. The practice of lobbying is considered so essential to the proper functioning of the U.S. government that it is specifically protected by the FIRST AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law ? abridging ? the right of the people peaceably ? to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The practice of lobbying provides a forum for the resolution of conflicts among often diverse and competing points of view; provides information, analysis, and opinion to legislators and government leaders to allow for informed and balanced decision making; and creates a system of checks and balances that allows for competition among interest groups, keeping any one group from attaining a permanent position of power. Lobbyists can help the legislative process work more effectively by providing lawmakers with reliable data and accurate assessments of a bill's effect.

The role lobbyists play in the legislative arena can be compared to that of lawyers in the judicial arena. Just as lawyers provide the trier of fact (judge or jury) with points of view on the legal issues pertaining to a case, so do lobbyists provide local, state, and federal policymakers with points of view on public policy issues.

Although lobbying as a whole serves as a checks-and-balances safeguard on the legislative process, individual lobbyists are not necessarily equal. Unlike voters, who each get one vote, lobbyists vary in their degree of influence. The level of influence a lobbyist has over the legislative process is often proportional to the resources?time and money?the lobbyist can spend to achieve its legislative goal. Some people think lobbyists in general have too much power. During his 1912 campaign for president, WOODROW WILSON remarked, "The government of the United States is a foster child of the special interests. It is not allowed to have a will of its own."

The term lobbyist has been traced to the mid-seventeenth century, when citizens would gather in a large lobby near the English House of Commons to express their views to members of Parliament. By the early nineteenth century, the term lobby-agent had come to the United States, where it was applied to citizens seeking legislative favors in the New York Capitol lobby, in Albany. By 1832 it had been shortened to lobbyist and was widely used at the U.S. Capitol.

In the early 2000s lobbyists practice their trade not only in the halls of the U.S. Capitol and the corridors of state legislatures, but also on playgrounds, in boardrooms, in manufacturing plants, at cocktail parties, and in retirement homes. Contemporary lobbying methods include POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEES, high-tech communication techniques, coalitions

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among groups and industries sharing the same political goals, and campaigns to mobilize constituents at the grassroots level. Lobbyists include schoolchildren who want to prevent their favorite neighborhood park from becoming a shopping mall, corporations who contribute to a particular legislator's campaign, lawyers who speak with legislators on behalf of their clients' business interests, cities who lobby the state legislature for changes in transportation laws, presidential aides who suggest new amendment language to congressional committee members, retired persons who want to save their government benefits, and many others. Each type of lobbyist attempts to win support for a particular point of view.

Samuel Ward, a well-respected lobbyist, was so successful at influencing legislators that in the mid-1800s Congress decided to investigate him. When questioned about the elegant dinners he...

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