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What is a Lobbyist?

Some lobbyists might use illegal methods like bribery to attempt to persuade public officials.
Often, lobbyists are politically well-informed individuals who have previously worked in public service or government administration.
Lobbyists usually speak on behalf of a group.
Lobbyists attempt to influence elected officials in an effort to benefit their client.
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  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
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A lobbyist is a person whose job is to try to influence public officials, usually for or against a specific cause. Lobbyists typically are employed by interest groups that want public policies to favor them and their causes. The word "lobbyist" comes from the type of room where the act of lobbying often takes place — such as the lobby of a government building, where legislators might gather before entering the chamber to discuss proposals or to vote. Lobbyists typically use verbal persuasion to try to influence public officials, but some might resort to more unethical or even illegal practices, such as bribery. For this reason, lobbying typically is heavily regulated.

Methods of Influence

There are several ways that a lobbyist might try to directly influence a public official. He or she might hold a formal meeting with one or more officials in which information is shared that supports the position of the lobbyist or interest group. In addition, a lobbyist might try to befriend public officials in various ways, such as by taking them out to dinner, throwing parties or providing entertainment.

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Lobbyists can indirectly influence public officials as well. One way of doing this is to get citizens to put pressure on the officials. For example, a lobbyist might organize a letter-writing campaign, organize a protest or encourage citizens to call their government representatives in support of or in opposition to a particular proposal. Lobbyists might purchase advertisements that are designed to sway the public opinion or to put pressure on officials. They also might use the media to gain attention for their causes.

Represented Causes

Many types of organizations use lobbyists. Businesses, industries and groups in certain segments of the economy use lobbyists to encourage legislation that will benefit them financially. Organizations that represent certain moral or political issues use lobbyists to support their causes. Groups of all types that have any concerns or issues that might be affected by public policies can use lobbyists to influence the officials who make those policies.

Working Together

Sometimes, lobbyists and interest groups will work together to support or to oppose certain issues. These cooperative efforts might be between groups that have similar or related interests, such as one that supports environmental causes and one that supports animal rights. At other times, however, seemingly unrelated groups or even groups that are normally opposing might find common ground regarding a specific piece of legislation that is under consideration and will combine their efforts to influence public officials.

Ethics

In most jurisdictions, it is illegal for public officials to accept money or certain favors in exchange for taking certain actions in their jobs, such as voting for or against a piece of legislation. Small gifts, entertainment, food or other items of a certain monetary value or less might be legal, however, and are quite common. Occasionally, an unscrupulous lobbyist might offer bribes or exceed the allowable limits for these benefits that are provided to public officials. Although these types of lobbyists are believed to be a very small percentage of all lobbyists, they have caused this profession to have a rather negative connotation to many people.

Regulation

To try to prevent unethical or illegal behavior by lobbyists, these individuals and the interest groups that they represent are heavily regulated in many jurisdictions. They might have to register with the government to engage in lobbying on a regular basis. Any benefits provided to public officials also might need to be reported, although there often is a minimum monetary value that is required before reporting the benefit is necessary.

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jessiwan
Post 66

So, even if we were to pass a law forbidding lobbying, we wouldn't be able to do it, because it would violate the first amendment?

anon333067
Post 65

The comments here would be laughable, except for the fact that such ignorance has very real consequences. I do not use ignorance in a disparaging way, but as simply equaling being uneducated on the topic.

First, our country and government have never been a democracy. Our system of government under the Constitution of 1787 is a republic, not a democracy. Before the founding of our republic, some New England colonies were democracies. Ancient Greece was a democracy as well. So for those who go on and on about us being a democracy in a weak effort to try to prove their point, I say please educate yourself before you continue to speak of that which you do not know.

Second, for those who wish to tar and feather all lobbyists while claiming that the politicians would do what was right all the time if there were no lobbyists, I say hogwash. You know not of what you speak. For the edification of the readers, I will pull back the curtains and show you how the game is really played.

Yes, lobbyists do try to befriend politicians in order to establish a relationship with them so that, when needed, they have an open door to present their case directly to the politician instead of having to talk to the office staff. Guess what? Any citizen can have the same open door access to the politicians for free. How you ask? Go and spend a lot of hours volunteering on their campaign and getting to know them. Watch how quickly they return your calls after they are elected. Hard core volunteers get much better access than most lobbyists do.

Yes, in some states it is legal to buy dinners and gifts for politicians, but in many states it is illegal to do so. One way lobbyists attempt to gain influence is by bundling campaign contributions. Sometimes it works and sometimes the politician just takes their contributions while laughing at them behind closed doors because they never intend to do anything whatsoever in return. Fewer than 10 percent of lobbyists are large campaign bundlers. Most do not represent multinational corporations with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on contributions. For those who say we should not let a lobbyist give a campaign contribution to a politician, I ask you to think that through. Because of their profession, they do not enjoy the same rights as any other citizen? What about their spouse or their siblings and other family? Should they have their legal right to give campaign contributions revoked simply because one of their family members is a lobbyist? Sure, you can argue for public financing of campaigns so that no person can give contributions, but that is a whole different can of worms with many unintended consequences.

Now look at the number of incumbents who are not re-elected. It almost never happens. The politicians understand the power of incumbency and use it to their advantage. Do you think they run scared because some group tells them they will spend money to try and help their opponent beat them? Guess what? Someone always gives their opponent money every election. They laugh and tell them to go ahead and waste their money because incumbents are re-elected 99 percent of the time.

Now to let you all in on a little known fact: typically it is the politicians who call the lobbyists and tell them to pick up the tab for dinner or drinks. They tell them they do not even have to go to the dinner, just drop their credit card off at the restaurant so the meal can be charged to it. Or, the politicians tell the lobbyist that they need them to pay for hotel rooms, dinners and sightseeing for some favored constituents from back home that are coming to visit. You see, the politicians are not stupid. They know that not very many lobbyists will tell them no when they ask them to do something. It is obvious to the lobbyists that they have to go along with what the politician wants them to do or else when they need to speak to the politician they will find a closed door.

You see, for every Jack Abramoff you have a Jesse Jackson Jr., a Duke Cunningham and Jim Traficant. I picked both Democrats and Republicans because neither side is pure. Locks on your house only keep an honest man honest. Similarly, the law only keeps an honest man honest. No politician ever has to accept a bribe or illegally spend campaign funds, etc. An honest politician will tell them no thank you. A dishonest one is simply on the lookout for opportunities to cash in, so to speak. Personal ethics and integrity are missing from the vast majority of politicians today.

So, while people rail about the corrupt lobbyists, it is, in fact, corruption among the politicians that is the problem. An honest man can not be bought or bribed -- only a dishonest one.

anon303496
Post 64

Very interesting and informative. I also did not know what the purpose of lobbying is. Some of us are lobbying when we speak up and are consistent with expressing our views, especially when they are parallel with equality and ethics. Thanks for this presentation of information!

anon300507
Post 63

With all the different comments on lobbyists it's kind of hard to know exactly what they are or do.

anon197705
Post 61

@Post no. 1: I am quoting this statement from the web as it is the case in my country (Tanzania). We had our forefathers like Mwalimu Nyerere and his company who fought for people, formed the government by the people and for the people, but currently we have leaders who are in power for their special interest and work hard to sustain themselves in power forever.

anon193332
Post 60

thank you for the information. it was very helpful, and yes i would love to see some change in the system.

anon169994
Post 58

Time to rid ourselves of this government and start all over, we the people and for the people.

anon157052
Post 57

Let me start by saying that I agree - with reservations - to what is being said. I say 'with reservation' because there are 12 comments that have obviously been censored as they are completely missing. That begs the question: Why are they missing?

The comments I am referring to in numerical order are; 2, 5, 6, 14, 19, 23, 24, 26, 37, 43, 48 and 52.

You are proving yourselves to be as bad if not worse than those you speak out against. That's called hypocrisy. This blatant censorship tends to negate the validity of the many very poignant comments here.

Moderator's reply: Thank you for visiting wiseGEEK. Comments are deleted for a variety of reasons, mostly for use of obscene or profane language, because they were advertisements or because they had nothing to do with the subject. Often, people will post nonsense, random letters, or will just post "hi" or an obscene word or something of the kind. Also, occasionally people will post the same thing twice, so one of the duplicate comments is deleted.

As long as the post adheres to our posting guidelines, found here: Article Discussion FAQ it will be approved and posted.

Thank you again for visiting wiseGEEK and for participating in the discussion forums.

justice19512
Post 56

As many Americans are discovering every day, that the United States of America has a system of government based more on Capitalism than democracy.

In plain language, government policy heavily shaped by money, not the vote. The U.S.A. is first and foremost a capitalist country, where big business and big money determine government policy. The roll of the lobbyist is together too act as the controlling shadow government in Washington.

"Democracy," as it is presently practiced, gives a false impression that the people are in control when all the while special interest groups are running the country. It is a sad state of affairs. It simply should be illegal for any lobbyist, be they a paid lobbyist or a private individual, to make any financial contribution or benefit to any government official, agency or political party, directly or indirectly through another party.

The "one person, one vote" philosophy of democracy should be firmly made law! However, we as a society have not fully come to understand that money and influence to many people are the same thing as drugs and booze are to addicts!

anon134710
Post 55

To petition the government is one thing, but to pay off is another thing.

anon134709
Post 54

I started to write an argument for an English class. I am now really ticked off. I am an 80 year old American born female, and I use to be patriotic, but this is the last straw. If there were no lobbyists, just think: our elected officials would have to work at being a congressmen and patriots. Instead, they are pimps for the lobbyists.

anon125469
Post 53

I applaud you all for taking such an active interest in this topic. An educated electorate is our only hope of restoring the founding principles of America.

But let’s take a more analytical look at lobbyists. The First Amendment guarantees that our right to petition our government is sacrosanct. We are all lobbyists at one time or another. The only difference between a K-Street lobbyists and you is that you don’t have any power.

You can write a letter to your congressman; the K-Street lobbyist can write a check to his campaign.

So lobbying, per se, is not the problem. The problem is that congress is for sale.

The founders of the country knew that rich and powerful people have always, throughout all of human history, tried to exploit the system for their own advantage. They also knew that all governments have tried to enlarge themselves and to acquire more power. This is human nature, a genetic inclination that cannot be changed.

So the founders devised a system of government with checks and balances, and a written constitution that was intended to limit the power of the central government to only a few defined tasks. It worked reasonably well for 150 years, but then politicians began ignoring or circumventing the constitutional limits. They discovered that the people were no longer watching what they were doing. Ask most politicians today to cite the constitutional authority for most of the laws they pass and they will say, as Nancy Pelosi famously said recently, “Are you serious?”

Your anger at lobbyists is misplaced. It is the Pelosi types who deserve your anger.

anon115257
Post 51

The right of individuals, groups and businesses to lobby the government is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution under the right to petition. Sometimes, a lobbyist is someone you hire to protect you from someone you elected.

anon68295
Post 50

I just can't get over the ignorance of such a large majority of the United States population! Most people are so dumbed down that they don't even care that they know almost nothing about our government. In a strange way, I wish I was just as ignorant so I wouldn't get so frustrated.

Presidents, Vice President, Congress -- they don't "run" our country, money does, and lobbyist is now the job most congressmen seek! Doesn't that say enough?

Wake up people! Smoke a legal cigarette, go get drunk and drive home and kill an innocent family! Go molest a little kid -- but whatever you do, don't think too much! If you do, you just might realize that our system is so screwed up that only a civil war will change it! And that won't ever happen because nobody cares.

Our legal system is a crying shame! We lock up drug addicts for years and years, while we parole child molesters to make room? Good God I could go on and on.

I personally hope President Obama is going to be the best president in the history of the U.S. Does anyone think about the fact that he took over the worst government in the history of the U.S.? What a joke. I'm moving to Canada!

anon66189
Post 49

From what i know of lobbyists it seems to me we have two types of lobbyists. The greedy, wheeling and dealing kind that bribe the corrupt. We call these people lobbyists.

However the other type we call American heroes and god sent blessings to our land. A lot of american heroes can be called lobbyists. People like Martin Luther King Jr. People who fight for the rights of others like the USA military.

A lobbyist is someone who tries to seek change in government polices. The problem with the first kind of lobbyist is that very few of them seem to have personal morals and values. But then, how many government officials can claim to have not broken their code of honor?

Captron
Post 47

By having lobbyists we let the wealthy and crooks say how our government is run. The people have no say in a system where they are outbid with money and favors. There should not be such a thing as lobbyists. Let's get rid of them!

anon64774
Post 46

I totally agree. There should not be such a thing as a lobbyist. Why should not our elected officials listen to and vote as the people who elected them want. not special interest groups.

What is the use of electing someone if they listen to money and not the ones that elected them? It's just wrong.

anon64065
Post 45

Technically any or all of us can be lobbyists. Apparently, we would be an entirely different breed. But that doesn't mean we cannot achieve what we set out to do, only in different ways.

Petitions, peaceful mass marches will be hard for a senator or congressman to ignore.

You know, the good ol boys (women too now), you know and if you don't know, really despise embarrassment, they deplore changes that we demand instead of what they want and they all love their political careers.

It truly is time to sincerely consider what our government will be like for our children and grandchildren. Our constitution is a worthless piece of paper if citizens don't use it!

I'm just an old country gal and I may be ignorant of the approach to make a change, but I'm not blind, nor deaf, and I am tired of being gullible and stupid!

spiritgirl72
Post 44

I found this site looking to see what a Lobbyist does. After reading all the entries I don't understand why all of the unhappy people aren't going after the lobbyists instead of trying to bury Obama. This man walked into a nightmare and is trying to fix things and is getting nothing but flak.

Why don't we spend out time and energy getting rid of the crooked lobbyists and greedy politicians? I think this would stop a lot of the bickering and fighting. These people aren't fighting for the people, they're fighting for themselves. If they weren't they would be working together for the common good of the people and not themselves.

Why do we need lobbyists?

anon63781
Post 42

I concur! However, yes there are many powerful legit lobbying companies, but as the people, we start with true grassroots. There are many orgs in cyber world that share, for the majority, our feelings. Literally thousands. A mere consolidation of a few of them, would or could began our journey of letting our reps know we mean business. I call it tenacity.

There is very little that we cannot learn from our computers. Alas, the truth and success will be determined by our participation, commitment and dedication to the cause. Check out Citizens United and the ACLU only for beginners. It may be as simple as the Department of Education. Not likely, but you never know.

anon62001
Post 41

So basically, you need to have a profitable money making company to support and pay for the lobbyist and all of his expenses.

If you are just a hard working normal American, you have no lobbyist. Does this simply mean our government is not for the people but for the money? Like our legal system, it is bought and sold.

The only reason our lady of justice is blindfolded is so she can not see all the illegal buying and selling of her justice. No wonder God cannot bless America -- he can't find it, due to the rape of the Constitution by lawyers and judges, the two most harmful and corrupt of all criminals.

All men may be created equal by God, but they are damn sure not equal in the legislative and judicial system in our once great country.

anon61944
Post 40

What maybe we can do is have hundreds upon thousands of people register as lobbyists and demand their turn to take up the time of the legislators, mucking up the system, so to speak. This would diffuse the ability of corporate and other paid lobbyists to garner their time, which I see as the problem with our system; our reps listen to them and not us!

where do we get people to do so? How about 10 percent of us being unemployed? We only need and few thousands to bring lobbying to a halt.

anon61920
Post 39

#33. How do we do this?

anon61919
Post 38

The wrong illegal job for me or my kids! Would not be too proud if anyone I know did this even on a small scale! Should be banned/illegal and our country run like a small business with my personal money and each of our livelihoods at stake. From one messed around by our "judicial" system! ha. It's all a crock!

anon59573
Post 36

Also, does anyone feel that this could have a negative impact on the future, the schools, and the students. I expect tremendous opposition only from all levels of our government. These or many of them would ultimately have to revert back to the true written laws to continue, or perhaps by then, society would be informed enough to know how they should be governed and take action.

anon59569
Post 35

I feel our country and our rights are disappearing right in front of our own eyes. Want it? I would describe it more as adamant, passionate, and I know I will never have peace of mind if I only speak of it without beginning and believing that this would be an act to attempt to preserve what our country was founded on.

I have only begun to be proactive. I have no knowledge at this point of who, what, when, how, and who at this phase, but I was blessed with an analytical mind and I am not afraid of a challenge. My biggest challenge, of course, is gaining support of millions. I believe this is more than feasible with the web. But I am only one. I would appreciate any feedback and advic.

anon59521
Post 34

I don't know how dated this site is, but here goes.

I believe at this time in our country that ultimately our Constitution must be ratified and or amended. Our rights, if we really do have them, and when you look at the really big picture, have fallen so far below The Bill of Rights purpose.

A common goal that we all should share in order to remedy this would have no bearing on this or these generations, but for, I pray, soon coming generations. The only solution that I have would be that the entire USA school system, (and I say that broadly) begin mandatory education (from grade 1), to teach to be learned, as in reading, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, state laws, etc. Hence, hopefully these generations would actually know their rights.

It is an alarming percentage of our population that have no clue of what will happen if they should ever become involved with our judicial system. I speak from experience. This is a very critical issue that would forsake the possibility of ever cleaning up our government by the people, but could ensure a reinforcement of Americans' rights.

I also no longer uphold "We the people." We need to change it now to "We are the people!" I know that I cannot change the world, per se, but maybe this is something in which citizens can agree upon.

Yes, it will be a tremendous undertaking, but it can all begin now. Do you want it?

anon57044
Post 33

We should demand a law that forbids any type or action similar to lobbying. It only happens if enough people get sick and tired of this stuff. I know quite a few folks who have reached that point.

anon51491
Post 32

Lobbying is legalized corruption.

anon48755
Post 31

LOL. Whoever wrote lobbying is highly regulated is wrong.So were(supposedly) our banks. Lobbyist. Let's see. The job an ex-politician seeks so that he can rub shoulders with politicians and get payouts (because he is now considered "on the Payroll") for those companies for which he voted towards, with total disregard for the public well-being. Frankly, it should be, if you were a politician and then become a lobbyist, it should be automatic jail because you obviously had ulterior motives in mind than to do your public service. you got voted out, or you quit, because you stink at your job. If I stink at my job and get thrown out, should I expect a highly paid job to rub shoulders with my buddies and party on the taxpayers money for nothing but a bribe for a contract from the government? All politicians better answer yes to this or nullify the lobbyist, and make it illegal.

anon48407
Post 30

lobby is just another word for bribery. look at our great organized crime government. A senator gets paid $200,000 dollars and makes 4 to 5 million dollars a year. and they don't call it bribery they call them lawmakers. mgnn

anon45072
Post 29

The major problem with lobbying is that the public's wishes are bastardized through the temptation of wealth to our public servants. Lobbyists should have no more clout or accessibility that the single individual at the voting boot. Our legislators are chosen by the people, and they should be obligated to follow the path they subscribed to when they were elected, not being prostituted by/for those who are paid by *any* special interest groups.

anon44661
Post 28

jkirkrun496 Are you lost! Hussein put two lobbyists in his cabinet. If i'm not mistaken I believe he made a labor lobbyist his labor secretary and there is one other. Hussein is going to be worse than that GWB.

anon40110
Post 27

Most people have no idea of what a lobbyist is or does. Or indeed how difficult and time consuming.

True, successful lobbyists are very honest, and most ethical. And they very reluctantly tell people about being a lobbyist. Why? Most people would rather believe what they have read in a newspaper about lobbyists, written by people who have no idea what a lobbyist is.

CannonMPA
Post 25

I enjoy the fact that lobbyists are required to register and report their activities. One, can see how much lobbyists are paid and by whom they are paid by simply logging on the a state or federal website. Randy Cannon, MPA

A Public Policy Advocate

anon21834
Post 22

enforcement- I think lobbyists should or can be everyday people where the influence is not as severe. I would love to lobby at the state level in Florida.

anon21307
Post 21

The term lobbyist was created in the time of Abe Lincoln. He was in Washington preparing for his inauguaral address and was staying at the Windham hotel ( I think that was the name). In any event he was coming back into the hotel and the LOBBY was full of all sorts of people seeing favors, appointments, jobs etc. and were approaching Lincoln making their requests. Of course this practice must have been done before Lincoln but the practice had not received a label--------- until now.

don e--------- westchester, il

jkirkrun496
Post 20

Interesting stuff - glad Obama did not take lobby-money and he isn't indebted as he puts together his staff. In reading blogs, what is the Federal Judicial Task Force? When referring to something like this, it is helpful to put a URL - I googled it and found all kinds of stuff related but nothing that looked like what the writer was referring to. It would have been interesting, but.....

anon20551
Post 18

Q:"I'm a bit ignorant as to how this works. Our candidates are excepting money from lobbyists. How is this not bribery and how is it legal?"

A:"t is very easy for a lobbyist to stray into bribery -- the most direct way to influence legislation, obviously, is to bribe enough law makers to ensure that the bill you support passes. Therefore, lobbying is heavily regulated."

as quoted from above text.

djbell
Post 17

No degree is required to lobby, but you do need to get out there and make the necessary contacts. One group that needs to be kept up with is the Federal Judicial Task Force. They are an activist/lobbyist group that is the most patriotic of any group to this date.

anon20411
Post 16

do you need a degree to lobby?

djbell
Post 15

For the "TRUTH" about our political system and of what it has been shaped to become, log onto the website of the Federal Judicial Task Force see the facts for yourself. This organization needs assistance to help insure our rights. They are made up of a few lobbyist who are willing to stand up for what is right. Please find it in your heart to Donate what you can so we can get our Government back.

anon18943
Post 13

i am 42 years old, and am now the most curious about politics that i have ever been. thanks for the explanation on what a lobbyist is, i hear the word all the time in the news but never really knew.

anon18465
Post 12

Thanks for the article. It helped me out with a project I am doing.

anon16617
Post 11

the article has given me a complete insight about lobbying.. but i would further like to know the difference between a lobbyist & a public relations exec?? is the line between the two blurred? or is there a vast difference?

anon16453
Post 10

That's how it's been for the past 60 years at least, if not more. Before lobbyists, there were no liaisons between the government and big business, so the business went there in person. I suggest watching an old classic, "Mr. Smith goes to Washington".

anon15761
Post 9

I agree that are nation has steered away from the intentions and expectation that our forefathers had in mind, but they couldn't even begin to imagine that the world would be in the technological and environmental stage it is at this time. As far as for the election i do believe they are strongly influenced by certain interest yea, but look at the times of old, do people think that John Adams or Thomas Jefferson were elected because the people had a true word in the election, no, there were certain people's interest involved in those election as well, our forefathers had intentions and expectations for this nation and didn't want them to be jeopardized by anyone or anything. But that's my opinion. I do think that the people should have more of a voice in today's elections, because today's society is in need of strong voiced people to stand and speak their minds.

anon14428
Post 8

vote john ashby for president.

anon8741
Post 7

I'm a bit ignorant as to how this works. Our canidates are excepting money from lobbyists. How is this not bribery and how is it legal?

anon6792
Post 4

we may have lost it but nothing ever goes up with out going down and vise versa.

Dabhr2
Post 3

Very Good.

I wonder if I could Lobby at my Local Law Inforcement Agency.

anon1586
Post 1

We have lost what our forefathers fought so valiantly for. We no longer have government by the people and for the people. We now have government from the municipalities up to the national level that are controlled by special interests. Elections are strongly influenced by funds from special interests. Our elected officials are influenced by special interests and in some cases laws are written by special interests. We the people have a vanishing influence on out government. A sweeping change is needed to put this great nation back on track.

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