In any discussion of Washington DC lobbyists, you’re likely to hear about their overarching influence in today’s politics and in the halls of the Federal government. Isn’t it striking, then, that there are fewer actively registered lobbyists in DC now than at any time in the past two decades? Not surprisingly, this contradiction is all in the numbers, or rather, it’s all about what’s not in the numbers.1
In order to understand how these conflicting realities can both be true, it’s worth taking a brief overview of lobbying from the era of the Founders to the present day.
- First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution includes language that bars congress from limiting individual freedoms, including the “right of the people to petition their government.” This language has been interpreted from the beginning to extend to protection of the right to lobby.
- President Ulysses S. Grant is reputed to have coined the term “lobbyist,” referring to the men who populated the lobby of the famed Willard Hotel, approaching him for influence. However, some sources date the origin of the term “to lobby” as early as 1837, so the U.S. Grant story is in dispute.2
- By 1876, lobbyists were required to register with Congress.
- In 1995, Congress passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), to toughen up requirements for disclosure. It is widely known that many lobbyists under-report activities or fail to comply entirely.1
- In 2007, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 was passed to increase the level of reporting and transparency in government.1
- In 2015, The Carmen Group (lobbying firm) was charged with a $125,000 fine for failing to disclose lobbying activity, marking the first charge of its kind since the 1995 legislation was passed.
- Currently, lobbyists are defined as those who spend more than 20% of their time lobbying.
As this timeline developed, lobbyists noticed that Department of Justice enforcement of disclosure rules was limited or non-existent. Many firms chose to ignore reporting requirements. At the same time, lobbying evolved to rely more on activities that fall outside of the rules, like strategic planning, grass-roots campaigns, and more. The result is that there are fewer registered lobbyists in Washington now than at any time in the past twenty years.1
Lobbying in the Age of Social Media
The Internet age has changed the nature of lobbying in the nation’s capital, thanks to social media, which provides a fast, direct way to communicate with reporters and legislative staff. It also offers powerful opportunities to raise awareness and influence public opinion on behalf of non-profits, trade groups, grassroots organizations, and corporations.
Until recently, only the largest of these interest groups had the budget to get in the game and influence legislation through lobbying. Fees were high and often undisclosed, as were the kinds of activities and results obtained. In an effort to offer lobbying services for smaller, underserved organizations and interests, and counter the prevailing trend of big money influence by and for the elite, LobbyIt.com was launched several years ago to provide basic lobbying services. Their novel approach offers tiered levels of service, with packages that specify deliverables, and regular reporting on activities and results.
Starting with the unheard-of basic monthly fee of just $995, they have racked up a solid record of accomplishments in Washington DC, helping those previously under-represented to have a voice in protecting their interests within their government. Contact LobbyIt.com at 202-587-2736, to learn how they can help your organization.