Lobbying in the United States describes paid activity in which special interests hire well-connected professional advocates, often lawyers, to argue for specific legislation in decision-making bodies such as the United States Congress. It is a highly controversial phenomenon, often seen in a negative light by journalists and the American public, and frequently misunderstood. While lobbying is subject to extensive and often complex rules which, if not followed, can lead to penalties including jail, the activity of lobbying has been interpreted by court rulings as free speech and protected by the US Constitution. Since the 1970s, lobbying activity has grown immensely in terms of the numbers of lobbyists and the size of lobbying budgets, and has become the focus of much criticism of American governance. Since lobbying rules require extensive disclosure, there is a wealth of data in the public sphere about which entities lobby, how, at whom, and for how much. The current pattern suggests much lobbying is done by corporations, although a wide variety of coalitions representing diverse groups is possible. Lobbying happens at every level of government, including federal, state, county, municipal, and even local governments. In Washington, DC, lobbying usually targets congresspersons, although there have been efforts to influence executive agency officials as well as US Supreme Court appointments. It has been the subject of academic inquiry in various fields, including economics, law, and public policy. While lobbyists number of 12,000 people in Washington, DC, those with real clout number in the dozens, and a small group of firms handles much of lobbying in terms of expenditures. As an activity, lobbying takes time to learn, requires skill and sensitivity, depends on deft persuasion, and has much in common with generally non-political activities such as management consulting and public relations.
Numerous reports chronicle the revolving door phenomenon. A 2011 estimate suggested that nearly 5,400 former congressional staffers had become federal lobbyists over a ten-year period, and 400 lawmakers made a similar jump. It is a “symbiotic relationship” in the sense that lobbying firms can exploit the “experience and connections gleaned from working inside the legislative process”, and lawmakers find a “ready pool of experienced talent.” There is movement in the other direction as well: one report found that 605 former lobbyists had taken jobs working for lawmakers over a ten-year period. A study by the London School of Economics found 1,113 lobbyists who had formerly worked in lawmakers’ offices. The lobbying option is a way for staffers and lawmakers to “cash in on their experience”, according to one view. Before the 1980s, staffers and aides worked many years for congresspersons, sometimes decades, and tended to stay in their jobs; now, with the lure of higher-paying lobbying jobs, many would quit their posts after a few years at most to “go downtown.”
And it is not just staffers, but lawmakers as well, including high-profile ones such as congressperson Richard Gephardt. He represented a “working-class” district in Missouri for many years but after leaving Congress, he became a lobbyist. In 2007, he began his own lobbying firm called “Gephardt Government Affairs Group” and in 2010 it was earning close to $7 million in revenues with clients including Goldman Sachs, Boeing, Visa Inc., Ameren Corporation, and Waste Management Inc.. Senators Robert Bennett and Byron Dorgan became lobbyists too. Mississippi governor Haley Barbour became a lobbyist. In 2010, former representative Billy Tauzin earned $11 million running the drug industry’s lobbying organization. called the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Many former representatives earned over $1 million in one year, including James Greenwood and Daniel Glickman.
When getting access is difficult, there are ways to wear down the walls surrounding a legislator. Jack Abramoff explained:
Access is vital in lobbying. If you can’t get in your door, you can’t make your case. Here we had a hostile senator, whose staff was hostile, and we had to get in. So that’s the lobbyist safe-cracker method: throw fundraisers, raise money, and become a big donor.
—Lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 2011
PDF: Lobbying Success in the United States and the European Union:
PDF: Lobbying Reform in the United States and the European Union:
PDF: Regulating Lobbyists: A Comparative, Analysis of the United States, Canada,
Germany and the European Union:
PDF: THE ISRAEL LOBBY AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY: