Lobbying is the practice of trying to persuade legislators or
officials to propose, pass, or defeat legislation or to change existing
laws. Lobbying may be done by constituents, organized groups, or other
legislators. Governments often define and regulate lobbying by organized
groups. Lobbying takes place on international, national, state, local,
and municipal levels, wherever a government or organization of any kind
makes decisions on public policy. A lobbyist may be a professional paid
to work on behalf of a special interest group such as a trade
association, labor union, or nonprofit organization, or a private
individual who acts out of personal commitment to a particular cause.
Direct lobbying involves meeting personally with congresspeople or
decision makers and attempting to persuade them. Indirect lobbying can
take the form of advertising campaigns, media publicity, the filing of
lawsuits, and public relations initiatives; or of influencing the people
who are in direct contact with the decision-maker.
Lobbying, which is inevitable in any political system, has received particular attention in the United States, where numerous laws have been passed to attempt to regulate the activities of lobbyists and prevent corruption and abuse. There are 30,000 registered lobbyists in Washington D.C.. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, contains a number of provisions that govern aspects of lobbying,
The supposed origins of the term "lobbyist" vary. According to the BBC, the term “lobbying” comes from the gathering of Members of Parliament and peers in the hallways (or lobbies) of Houses of Parliament before and after parliamentary debates. The modern British Parliament was established by the Acts of Union in 1707. Another story claims that the term originated at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, where it was used by Ulysses S. Grant to describe the political wheelers and dealers who frequented the hotel's lobby in order to access Grant, who was often found there enjoying a cigar and brandy.
In her book, Lobbying and Advocacy: Winning Strategies, Resources, Recommendations, Ethics and Ongoing Compliance for Lobbyists and Washington Advocates, Deanna Gelak, a former president of the American League of Lobbyists, quotes an appearance of the term "lobbying" in print as early as 1820:
ActivitiesOther letters from Washington affirm, that members of the Senate, when the compromise question was to be taken in the House, were not only "lobbying about the Representatives' Chamber," but were active in endeavoring to intimidate certain weak representatives by insulting threats to dissolve the Union" (April 1, 1820, New Hampshire Sentinel).
Lobbying takes place on international, national, state, local, and municipal levels, wherever a government or organization of any kind makes decisions on public policy. A lobbyist is an activist who attempts to influence decision-makers to vote in favor of a particular position. A lobbyist is typically paid to work on behalf of a special interest group, but may be a private individual who acts out of personal commitment to a particular cause. A professional lobbyist may be employed by a trade association, labor union, or nonprofit organization, or may be an independent professional with many clients. In the United States, city and state governments, public interest groups such as consumer and environmental protection organizations, and various branches of the federal government also maintain staff lobbyists.
Lobbying can be direct or indirect. Direct lobbying involves meeting personally with congressmen or decision makers and providing them with information pertinent to a bill or policy on which they will be voting. Lobbyists representing particular groups may give presentations to legislative committees. Indirect lobbying can take the form of advertising campaigns, media publicity, the filing of lawsuits, and public relations initiatives; or of influencing the people who are in direct contact with the decision-maker. Grassroots lobbying is the mobilization of large numbers of ordinary citizens to sign petitions, write letters, participate in demonstrations and otherwise make their opinions known to their political representatives. Grasstop lobbying involves the mobilization of community leaders, professional associations, celebrities and well-known figures who are able to influence public opinion and apply substantial pressure to political figures.
Lobbyists attempt to persuade decision-makers by imparting information favorable to a particular cause in the form of policy research, reports, polls and charts. Some lobbyists spend much of their time preparing “position papers” that summarize the main points of the issue under discussion, and distributing them to lawmakers, the media and other influential persons who may not have time to conduct their own research.
Cultivating good relationships with politicians and influential people is essential to lobbying. Many lobbyists are former legislators, Congressional aides, or lawyers who already enjoy a wide network of contacts among their former colleagues. Lobbyists frequently host social functions such as awards banquets and cocktail parties where they can interact informally with their contacts. They may also organize “fact-finding missions” or vacation trips during which they travel together with legislators and have an almost unlimited opportunity to present their views.
Abuse and reform
The practice of lobbying is a natural outgrowth of representative government but is vulnerable to abuse, most commonly to bribery. Lobbyists attempt to buy influence in a number of ways, including making campaign contributions and collecting funds from other donors for re-election campaigns; offering services and privileges such as luxury accommodations or the complimentary use of a corporate jet for travel; paying for lavish events to “honor” lawmakers; paying for meals or vacations; and promising future employment. Lobbyists sometimes form Political Action Committees to support the election of a particular candidate. During 2007–2008, the Federal Election Commission of the United States limited the amount that individual lobbyists could donate to a political candidate to $2,300, and the amount that a PAC could donate to a candidate to $5,000. During the 2008 presidential elections, over 140 lobbyists acted as “bundlers” for presidential candidates, gathering donations from other supporters.
In response to lobbying abuses, Congress passed the "Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007," containing a number of provisions that govern aspects of lobbying. It prevents former Senators from lobbying Congress for two years after they have left and maintains the current rule preventing former Representatives from lobbying the House for one year. It also prevents former members who become lobbyists from using Congress' parking and gym privileges. Congressional travel paid for by outside groups must be reported on the Internet. Lawmakers are forced to report all lobbyist-bundled contributions that total more than $15,000 every six months. Lobbyists cannot pay for parties or events at national Party conventions. The Act increases disclosure of lobbyists’ contributions to lawmakers and entities controlled by lawmakers, including contributions to their charities, to events or entities honoring Members of Congress, contributions intended to pay the cost of a meeting or a retreat, and contributions to Presidential library funds. A searchable online database now discloses the previous employment of lobbyists in the executive branch and Congress, and Member travel and personal financial information.
Lobbying in the United States and Europe
Lobbying in the United States has received considerable attention in Congress, in political debates, the media and even internationally. In 2008, there were over 30,000 registered lobbyists based in Washington D.C. Many lobbyists and lobbying firms have office on “K” Street in Washington D.C., and the term “K Street” has become synonymous with lobbying.
Many jurisdictions, in response to concerns of corruption, require the formal registration of lobbyists who come in contact with government representatives. The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act (1946), required lobbyists and the groups they represented to register and report contributions and expenditures. Since 1995, under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (2 U.S.C. § 1601), most persons who are paid to make direct "lobbying contacts" with members of Congress and officials of the federal executive branch are required to register and file reports twice a year. If lobbyists neglect to register, they are susceptible to criminal charges and harsh penalties.
There are ongoing conflicts between organizations that wish to impose greater restrictions on lobbying activities, and groups that argue that such restrictions infringe on the right to petition government officials, which is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
For example, in January 2004, the U.S. Senate considered S. 1, an omnibus "ethics reform" bill. This bill contained a provision (Section 220) to establish federal regulation, for the first time, of certain efforts to encourage "grassroots lobbying." The bill defined "'grassroots lobbying' as the voluntary efforts of members of the general public to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials or to encourage other members of the general public to do the same." This provision was opposed by a broad array of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Right to Life Committee, and the National Rifle Association, who argued that attempts by constituents to influence their representatives are at the heart of representational democracy, and that neither such contacts nor efforts to motivate such contacts should be considered "lobbying." On January 18, 2007, the U.S. Senate voted 55-43 to strike Section 220 from the bill. However, other proposed regulations on "grassroots lobbying" remained under consideration in the 110th Congress.
Another controversial bill, the "Executive Branch Reform Act, H.R. 985, would require over 8,000 Executive Branch officials to report into a public database nearly any "significant contact" from any "private party." Although promoted as a means of regulating "lobbyists," the bill’s definition of "private party" as "any person or entity" except "Federal, State, or local government official or a person representing such an official" means that anyone who is not a government official or government staff person and contacts a covered government official is deemed a lobbyist. The bill defines "significant contact" to be any "oral or written communication (including electronic communication) … in which the private party seeks to influence official action by any officer or employee of the executive branch of the United States." The bill is supported by some organizations as an expansion of "government in the sunshine," but other groups oppose it as an infringing on the right to petition, by making it impossible for citizens to communicate their views on controversial issues without having their names and viewpoints entered into a government database. The U.S. Department of Justice has raised constitutional and other objections to the bill.
For non-profit organizations, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) strictly defines the activities considered as “lobbying," and penalizes those who exceed a certain limit by revoking their tax privileges.
The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected congressional efforts to regulate grassroots communications as a form of "lobbying," on constitutional grounds. In 1953, in a suit involving a congressional resolution authorizing a committee to investigate "all lobbying activities intended to influence, encourage, promote, or retard legislation," the Supreme Court narrowly construed "lobbying activities" to mean only "direct" lobbying (which the Court described as "representations made directly to the Congress, its members, or its committees"), and rejected a broader interpretation of "lobbying" out of First Amendment concerns. The Supreme Court thereby affirmed the earlier decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which said:
European UnionIn support of the power of Congress it is argued that lobbying is within the regulatory power of Congress, that influence upon public opinion is indirect lobbying, since therefore attempts to influence public opinion are subject to regulation by the Congress. Lobbying, properly defined, is subject to control by Congress…. But the term cannot be expanded by mere definition so as to include forbidden subjects. Neither semantics nor syllogisms can break down the barrier which protects the freedom of people to attempt to influence other people by books and other public writings…. It is said that lobbying itself is an evil and a danger. We agree that lobbying by personal contact may be an evil and a potential danger to the best in legislative processes. It is said that indirect lobbying by the pressure of public opinion on the Congress is an evil and a danger. That is not an evil; it is a good, the healthy essence of the democratic process….
Until the late 1970s, lobbying in Brussels was mostly "diplomatic lobbying" carried out at the highest levels. Lobbyists were few in number, and except for some business organizations, rarely maintained offices. Lobbying expanded rapidly in Brussels following the first direct election of the European Parliament in 1979. Businesses and organizations increasingly felt the need of an expert local presence to keep them abreast of what was going on in Brussels and to educate their political representatives there. The need to provide information developed into a need to influence the process actively and effectively. The Single European Act of 1986 both created the qualified majority vote for making decisions in the Council of the European Union and enhanced the role of the Parliament, making EU legislation more complex and lobbying more important to interest groups.
As the EU developed from a Member States organization into a substantial political entity, and dealt with policy in more areas, it became more important as a target for lobbying. The enlargement of the European Union in 2004 incorporated an even wider range of different political cultures and traditions. In the wake of lobbying scandals in the United States and the United Kingdom, rules for lobbying in the EU, which until now only consist of a non-binding code of conduct, may also be tightened.
The fragmented nature of EU institutional structure provides multiple channels through which organized interests may seek to influence policy-making. Lobbying takes place at the European level itself and within the existing national states. The most important institutional targets are the Commission, the Council, and the European Parliament. The Commission has a monopoly on the initiative in Community decision-making. Since it has the power to draft initiatives, it is an ideal arena for interest representation. There are three main channels for indirect lobbying of the Council. First, interest groups routinely lobby the national delegations in Brussels. Secondly, interest groups lobby members of the many Council working groups. The third means of influencing the Council is directly via national governments. As a consequence of its co-decision procedures, the European Parliament attracts attention from lobbyists who target the rapporteur and the Chairman of the Committee. The rapporteurs are MEPs appointed by Committees to prepare the parliament’s response to the Commission’s proposal and to those measures taken by the Parliament itself.
There are currently around 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels (consultants, lawyers, associations, corporations, NGOs, and so on) seeking to influence the EU’s legislative process. Some 2,600 special interest groups have a permanent office in Brussels. Their distribution is roughly as follows: European trade federations (32 percent), consultants (20 percent), companies (13 percent), NGOs (11 percent), national associations (10 percent), regional representations (6 percent), international organizations (5 percent), and think tanks (1 percent).
In the United Kingdom “lobbying” traditionally referred to the attempt to influence an MP's vote by either their fellow parliamentary colleagues, by one of their constituents or by any outside organization. The modern use of the term is applied more narrowly to the operations of "lobbyists" hired to represent the views of an organization to Members of Parliament by arranging meetings, organizing protests or providing briefing material. This industry has been steadily growing in recent years and is now estimated to be worth $1.9 billion and employ 14,000 people. A recent report by the Hansard Society has shown that some MPs are approached over 100 times a week.
In 1994, a scandal involving Ian Greer Associates (a political consultancy established in 1982) in which Ministers were paid by special interest groups, resulted in the establishment of the APPC, a self-regulatory body of political consultancies, with its own code of conduct, a publicly-available register of clients and a complete ban on any financial relationship with politicians. The APPC now has 61 members, more than four-fifths of the political consultancy sector.
In addition to "open" lobbying, political parties in the United Kingdom have been accused of trying to raise campaign funds by offering peerages and other honors to contributors. Peers sit in the House of Lords, part of the UK legislature, and are in a position to initiate or amend Bills on their way to becoming Acts of Parliament. The rules of Parliament require participants in debates to "declare their interest" and the "sale" of peerages is a criminal offense. To circumvent this law, it is alleged that some contributions thus solicited, are given not as outright gifts but as loans.
In France, the practice of lobbying is not integrated in the political system. The influence of Jean Jacques Rousseau has resulted in a negative attitude towards efforts by particular interests to influence the government. The state is regarded as the only body that can define what the French call “general interest.”
While lobbying has always been practiced in France, organized lobbying only made a significant appearance in France in the early 1980s. Since then, it has grown steadily and many interest groups routinely seek to influence the French Government and the French Parliament (“National Assembly” and “Senate”). Increasing numbers of French enterprises try to organize lobbies by creating heir own public affairs departments. In recent years, citizen groups have created growing numbers of grassroots and grasstop lobbies representing interests such as opposition to genetically modified organisms and software piracy.
There is currently no regulation of lobbying activities in France and the practice suffers from a lack of transparency. Access to the French institutions is not regulated and there is no register of lobbyists. The internal rules of the National Assembly (Articles 23 and 79) forbid members of Parliament from being linked with particular interests. However, MPs do not have to declare their interests, and the list of MPs' assistants is not made public. There are no rules concerning the consultation of interest groups by the Parliament and the Government. A recent parliamentary initiative (motion for a resolution) was launched by several MPs to establish a register for representatives of interest groups and lobbyists who intend to lobby the MPs. The purpose of this initiative is to introduce standards of conduct and access to the National Assembly. These standards of conduct and access will enable the Assembly to identify and maintain a list of the representatives of interest groups who follow legislative activity, and to fully supervise the access of those representatives to the National Assembly. This motion has not yet been adopted.
The only countries in eastern Europe where lobbying is regulated by parliament are Georgia (1998), Lithuania (2001) Poland (2005) and Hungary (2006). All require registration of professional lobbyists. Attempts to regulate lobbying in other Eastern European countries have not brought satisfactory results.