Why Grassroots Lobbying is Important and How It Differs from Direct Lobbying
The differences between grassroots and direct lobbying can seem subtle at first. Both are effective at influencing public policy, but the means by which they achieve that goal are different. Here’s how:
- Grassroots lobbying involves the mass mobilization of the public around a legislative issue—whether it’s getting certain a certain poison banned or posing harsher penalties for drunk drivers. Grassroots lobbyists ask the general public to contact their legislators and other officials regarding an issue.
- Direct lobbying involves any attempt to influence legislation (new or existing) by communicating with a member of the legislative body or other government official who has a say in the legislation.
Here’s where it gets more complicated: To be considered grassroots lobbying, an organization (such as a nonprofit) cannot state their position on specific legislation and urge their members to contact their legislators/government agencies regarding that legislation—this is considered direct lobbying.
The keyword here is members—grassroots lobbying must target the public at large in its messaging. Publishing an open letter, creating an online petition, organizing a public demonstration/rally, or distributing flyers are all considered grassroots lobbying tactics.
Grassroots lobbying is protected under the First Amendment rights of speech, association, and petition. Nevertheless, in most cases lobbyists are required to register if they meet certain criteria (see our post referencing this criteria), and many states have additional regulations on lobbying, with administrative fines and even criminal penalties for failure to comply. This document outlines state requirements for lobbying activity in each state.
The Long History of Grassroots Lobbying in America
Today the magic of email, Facebook, and Twitter help us spread messages and generate support with the click of a button. In centuries past, on the other hand, grassroots lobbying took place in town hall meetings and public squares. Anonymous pamphleteers frequently took to the streets to make the public aware of issues of the day—certainly this same “take it to the streets” approach is still used, but grassroots activists have additional tools to help them today.
One thing is certain: Grassroots activism was and still is an essential part of the democratic process in the United States.
The Importance of Grassroots Lobbying to Democracy
Beyond sounding the alarm bell about important issues, grassroots lobbying serves the important function of educating the public on matters that affect them but which they otherwise might not know much about. Grassroots lobbyists help everyday citizens understand the substance and consequences of legislation in layman terms, and they help people understand the legislative process.
An informed citizenry provides a powerful check to legislators and agenda setters who might otherwise try to push or prevent legislation right under the noses of an uninformed public.
A proven means of effectively indirectly influencing legislative decisions, thousands of organizations and everyday citizens have used the power of grassroots lobbying to bring about change. When grassroots measures alone aren’t enough, the expert Washington D.C. lobbyists at Lobbyit can help. We’ve been working with small businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations for years to get their voices heard on Capitol Hill. Whether you want to establish a D.C. lobbying presence, closely monitor your important issues, or need help getting a bill passed, we offer some of the most cost-effective government affairs plans in the industry.