In many ways, lobbyists are the most direct link—aside from the vote—between voters and their elected representatives. They are hired by interest groups, like businesses, corporations, or associations.
What Lobbyists Do
Washington DC lobbyists work to convey the concerns of certain groups of Americans to Congress members and others in the U.S. government. Advocating on behalf of their clients, lobbyists represent groups that reflect all different aspects of society.
Lobbyists continually communicate with legislators and their staff members, in order to bring issues to their attention. They are barred from attempting to influence votes with gifts, money, or other inducements. Their most powerful source of persuasion is conveying the wishes of the voting public to legislators who want to stay in office or be re-elected.
The role of lobbyist is nothing new, having been a part of the legislative environment since the era of the founders, when James Madison addressed the question in his Federalist papers. Thomas Jefferson talked of the need for an exchange of information between the governed and those who govern, calling it the “dialogue of democracy.”1
Interest Groups and Their Role in Government
An interest group can be any organized group that represents a certain set of common needs or goals. These groups hire Washington lobbyists in order to influence the outcome of legislation that will affect their members in significant ways. Interest groups are far more varied than the common image of big money corporations. Many lobbyists work on behalf of everyday groups that need to make their issues known. Some of the most common types include:
• professional associations
• cities or towns
• non-profit organizations, charities
• corporations or businesses
At the same time, lobbyists serve a dual function, conveying vital information back to the client. They keep groups apprised of legislative progress, changes, and future concerns, as well as outcomes—forming a vital part of Jefferson’s “dialogue of democracy.” They gain access behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, where most people never go, and bring the public’s concerns into those discussions that ultimately may sway a vote one way or the other.
Popular concerns about DC lobbyists serving only so-called “special interests” overlook the broader reality. Certainly, a great many of the large-scale lobbying firms represent equally large-scale groups. The most intense big money lobbying is illustrated in 2014’s year-end passage of the “Cromnibus” (Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act), which combined a continuing resolution on funding the Department of Homeland Security with a broad, omnibus spending package. Over 204 so-called “K Street” firms lobbied Capitol Hill on this bill, on behalf of 676 clients.2 Among the largest represented were “special interests”, including:
• Blue Cross/Blue Shield, for health insurance regulations
• United Parcel Service, on changes to funding employee benefits programs
• Multiple defense and aerospace contractors
• Multiple pharmaceutical and other health care groups
Newer to the scene are innovative lobbyists, like Lobbyit. They make themselves accessible to smaller organizations lacking the budget to hire a K Street firm. The alternative approach of Lobbyit is to charge more reasonable fees, opening the doors to more diverse groups with a lesser budget but equally vital concerns.
This new model of operating in the Washington D.C. climate offers greater access to the halls of power and advances interests of Americans who fall outside one of the powerhouse categories seen in the Cromnibus2 record.
Who Can Lobby the Government?
Everyone’s interests are affected in some way by decisions made daily in Washington DC. Each citizen has the right to petition Congress, but attaining direct participation would be out of reach for most individuals, due to lack of resources, time, or understanding.
As required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act, tens of thousands of lobbyists are registered in Washington DC. Until recently, the ability to have a voice in the impersonal legislative process seemed to depend on luck, status, or wealth. In the past, only large-scale industries and organizations could easily allot a significant part of their budgets to hire costly big lobbying firms. The new model of a lobbyist, developed by Lobbyit, aims to make the same kind of direct participation available to more and smaller-scale businesses, associations, municipalities, or non-profits.
The lobbyist does more than influence lawmakers to make choices favorable to their client. They also maintain communication with the client over time, alerting them to pending changes in laws and regulations.
They maintain a voice and presence before legislators over time, also, not just when crucial legislative milestones are in the offing. The lobbyists’ effectiveness depends in large part on their ability to establish this continuous presence through relationships and visibility, building their own credibility with legislators and clients. When fast-changing actions begin to develop, the lobbyist can respond quickly to assure a client’s interests are being considered. The lobbyist is skilled in analyzing new legislative proposals and advising governmental representatives as to the likely impact these changes will have on their constituents.
Who Are Lobbyists?
Professional lobbyists are generally policy experts, attorneys, or past government officials. They draw on experience working within the Federal government, maintaining past relationships with important decision-makers and building new ones to advance their client’s cause. Their background gives them direct knowledge of the inner workings behind documentation and drafting legislation.
As regulations become more complex, and legislators are faced with forceful lobbying on behalf of certain interests, it is ever more important for businesses, associations, and organizations of all kinds to have effective representation. Without it, they risk being subject to sudden changes in regulations that may limit their ability to compete and to retain their standing in their respective fields of endeavor.
The certification program offered by the Association of Government Relations Professionals (AGRP) offers continuing education to help further understanding of the legislative process and the role of lobbying within it. The AGRP helps maintain and promote high standards of professionalism within the industry.