Are Lobbyists Ethical?

Many assume that lobbyists work for nefarious corporate and special interest clients. However, there are many nonprofits, public interest groups, hospitals, and labor unions, that hire lobbyists to lobby for them.

Take, for example, former Congressman Phil English who served 14 years in the House of Representatives. He is now a lobbyist for one of the largest lobbying firms, Arent Fox. While he has many corporate clients in the pharmaceutical and energy sectors, he also has lobbied for Catholic Charities USA, several research colleges and universities, as well as one of the top children’s hospitals in the country. So does he count as an unethical lobbyist?

There are many white-hat lobbyists as well who only work for nonprofits and on issues that benefit the common good. One prominent D.C. lobbyist, Thomas Sheridan, wrote a book called "Helping the Good Do Better: How a White Hat Lobbyist Advocates for Social Change." His clients include National Head Start Association, Alliance for Catholic Education, CityYear, Save the Children, and The One Campaign.

White Hat Lobbyists vs. Black Hat Lobbyists?

Lobbies Congress for nonprofits or good causes

Uphold the strictest ethical standards

Charge a reasonable rate for their work

Do not contribute to political campaigns or Political Action Committees (PACs)

Lobby to protect their client's bottom line

Push the limits of the law to gain an edge

Charge their clients thousands per hour

Gain access to politicians through political donations and fundraisers

Black Hat Lobbyist Examples:

Jack Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon engaged in a series of corrupt practices in connection to their lobbying work for various Indian gaming tribes. The fees paid to Abramoff and Scanlon for this work are believed to exceed $85 million.

In the course of the scheme, the lobbyists were accused of illegally giving gifts and making campaign donations to legislators in return for votes or support of the legislation. Representative Bob Ney and two aides to Tom DeLay were directly implicated; other politicians had various ties.

He was sentenced to six years in federal prison for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials, and tax evasion. He served 43 months before being released on December 3, 2010.

White Hat Lobbyists Examples:

Named a “Top Lobbyist” by The Hill newspaper for 2016, Tom Sheridan is described as a “powerbroker for those without a voice.”


A social worker by training and an advocate by trade, Tom brings a unique perspective to his work as one of Washington’s most senior political and public policy strategists.


Tom is known on Capitol Hill and in the West Wing for using his deep understanding of the political process and decades-long relationships with senior members of Congress and top administration officials to help organizations achieve scalable, positive social change.

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