What is a lobbyist?
A lobbyist is somebody who gets paid to try to influence government.
Who are lobbyists?
Typically, lobbyists are people who have worked on Capitol Hill, former members of Congress, lawyers with experience writing laws, or policy experts. People who know how the system works are typically better at influencing Congress than your average citizen.
How is a lobbyist paid?
Anybody can hire a lobbyist. Corporations, labor unions, nonprofits, trade associations, local and state governments, foreign countries, and wealthy individuals all have hired lobbyists to try to influence Congress.
Businesses and business interest groups spend the most on lobbying. For every $1 spent on lobbying by public interest groups, $34 is spent by businesses and their associations.
How does the dictionary define a lobbyist?
One of the reasons there is so much confusion about lobbyists is that there are many definitions out there for the word lobbyist. Let’s look at all of them to see if we can find an acceptable definition of the word lobbyist.
That is a tricky question. Most corporate lobbyists are only working for their client's bottom line and don't care about how their policy impacts everyday people. However, there are a few "white-hat" lobbyists" that only work for nonprofit clients and public interest groups. It is unfair to lump the good lobbyists together with the corporate ones. Our nonprofit, for example, let's everyday people hire lobbyists to work for good causes.
Here is the difference between white-hat lobbyists and the nefarious corporate lobbyists in Washingon, D.C.:
Lobbyists 4 Good
We care about the people and what is right
We uphold the strictist ethical standards
We charge a reasonable rate for our work
We do not contribute to political campaigns or Political Action Committees (PACs)
They care only about their client's bottom line
They push the limits of the law to gain an edge
They charge their clients thousands per hour
They gain access to politicians through political donations and fundraisers
How much money do lobbyists make?
Like most professions, a lobbyist's salary depends on how much experience they have. An entry-level lobbyist with less than five years of experience typically earns about $73,000 per year. A Lobbyist with five to ten years of experience can earn about $120,000 per year, and an experienced lobbyist with ten to twenty years of experience can expect to earn about $170,000 per year.
If the lobbyist is a former member of Congress or a partner at the law firm where they work, their salary can be significantly larger than the average salary.
There are many things lobbyists do to try to influence the government. These include, but are not limited to:
Persuade lawmakers to propose, pass, or amend legislation
Work to change existing laws and regulations
Provide relevant information to lawmakers
Research policy solutions for their issue
Identify potential "champions" for the cause
Build relationships with lawmakers and their staff
Meet one-on-one with congressional staff
Meet one-on-one with committee members
Meet one-on-one with key agency officials
Partner with other organizations in the field
Train advocates in other organizations
Help congressional staffers draft legislation
Contrary to popular belief, lobbying is not conducted through legal bribery.
How effective are lobbyists?
In addition to the examples above, in 2002, 93 corporations spent an average of 3 million each lobbying for a temporary corporate tax break. The companies received $197 million in breaks, a 22,000% return on investment.
Additionally, a Sunlight Foundation study called Fixed Fortunes in 2014 found that the top 200 multinational corporations saw $760 in gov’t funds for ever dollar they spent on politics. A 76,000% ROI.
Are the dictionary definitions of lobbyists accurate?
The problem with the dictionary definition of lobbying is that the definition includes citizen advocates who attend a march or protest, calls a member of Congress, writes a letter to their Senator, or attends a town hall meeting.
For this reason, we think the dictionary definitions miss the mark. Nobody would reasonably say that a person who attends a march or a protest is a lobbyist.
One option to find a better definition is to look at governing bodies that regulate lobbying. Their definitions would be more accurate because they have laws governing who needs to register as a lobbyist and who does not need to register.
We can all agree that people who attend protests are not lobbyists
Do lobbyists have to register with the government?
In every legislature in the United States, lobbyists must register before lobbying. Most often lobbyists must file registration paperwork. However, some states require those who hire lobbyists, sometimes called “principals,” to file either in addition to lobbyists or instead of them. The definition of “lobbying” and “lobbyist” also may vary.
Each state’s laws provide definitions for lobbyists. The laws that govern federal lobbying are determined by the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
Lobbyists who meet the below definition need to register with the federal government:
Any individual who is employed or retained by a client for financial or other compensation for services that include more than one lobbying contact, other than an individual whose lobbying activities constitute less than 20 percent of their time.
Below is the definition of lobbyists who need to register with the state of California:
Lobbyist means any individual who receives $2,000 or more in economic consideration in a calendar month, other than reimbursement for reasonable travel expenses, or whose principal duties as an employee are, to communicate directly or through his or her agents with any elective state official, agency official, or legislative official for the purpose of influencing legislative or administrative action.
How can everyday people hire lobbyists?
Countless studies have shown that the best way to pass a law or change policy in D.C. is through lobbyists.
This is why corporations and special interest groups spend over 3 Billion dollars each year to hire lobbyists to lobby on their behalf. The only way to counter these corporate influencers is to have lobbyists working for us.
Check out the VICE News Tonight segment about hiring a lobbyist for you: