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Lobbying: Myths vs. Facts

A lobbyist meets with a congressional staffer in a sunny room

Lobbying is one of the most misunderstood professions in America. Because of some well-publicized scandals involving unethical lobbyists, most Americans assume that all lobbyists are corrupt.

Surprising to most Americans, this simply isn't the case. There are unethical people in all professions, and lobbying is no different. But the majority of lobbyists operate within the law. The only difference with lobbying is that the bad actors make the front page and nobody understands what an actual lobbyist does.

So, in order to clear up some of the confusion, we have created the following Myths vs. Facts about lobbying.

Myth: Lobbyists get their influence through bribery and quid pro quo transactions.

Fact: Lobbyists “avoid at all costs” the perception that they want something in return for their donations.

According to a study done by Harvard University, there are very few instances of quid pro quo transactions or money being exchanged for policy favors. Researchers from Harvard found was that lobbyists “avoid at all costs” the idea that they want something in return for political contribution.

Donations, researchers found, were seen as a show of support between the lawmaker and the lobbyist because they share common goals. The fact is, lobbyists build key relationships with lawmakers over time through the exchange of information, not material goods and services.

From the Harvard Study:

"Contrary to public misconception, lobbyist participants did not engage in quid pro quo bribery of public offices. Lobbyist participants engaged in extensive formality to frame support as gifts between political and legislative allies and friends. It was only on the rare occasion that exchanges of legislative action for resources took the appearance of quid pro quo transactions: for example, a lawmaker would remind a lobbyist participant of an upcoming fundraiser following a hearing where the lawmaker asked a requested question; lobbyist participants struggled to meet projected goals for fundraising events at the risk of angering the lawmaker’s fundraiser. But the general sense is that providing support in small amounts, at the “right” moments, served to build trusted relationships over time and to offset any inconvenience caused by taking the lawmaker’s time. A transaction or quid pro quo exchange, like borrowing money from a family member, would serve to undermine the relationship and, thus, it was to be avoided at all costs."

Myth: Lobbyists are greedy. They only work for the highest bidder.

Fact: Not every lobbyist is a highly-paid, corporate cheerleader.

Lobbyists are hired by just about every American institution and interest group, including churches, charities, labor unions, higher education institutions, and environmental groups. Lobbyists have worked to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act, the CURES Act to help increase funding for medical research, legislation to support public education funding, school nutrition programs, and animal and environmental protections. Just look at a list of groups that hired lobbyists in 2017:

Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Newman’s Own Foundation Independent Sector Feeding America Issue One Better World Campaign American Cancer Society Alzheimer’s Association City Year Save The Children The One Campaign

Additionally, many corporate lobbyists even volunteer their time to advocate for underrepresented issues or legislation close to their own hearts. Here is a list of organizations’ that we know have lobbyists working for them .

The Bee Foundation Youth Basketball Big Cat Rescue Hoops for Hope Capitol PurSuits

Myth: Lobbyists are unethical and will stop at nothing to win.

Fact: Corruption is the exception, not the rule.

Lobbying standards have greatly improved since Jack Abramoff was arrested on corruption chargers. Lobbyists are required to register with the Federal Government and report any changes quarterly. They have a code of ethics that governs their profession and their own credibility rests upon their honesty and transparency. “As a lobbyist, the only thing you have to sell is your credibility,” says Peg Ackerman of Ackerman Information, a Colorado lobbying firm. “Legislators must be able to rely on you to give accurate information,” which means being honest about the provisions of a bill and the reasons for a client’s position.

Myth: Lobbying is all about expensive dinners, throwing fundraisers, and socializing with the political elite.

Fact: Lobbying is kind of boring.

Lobbyists are often subject-matter experts, which means that they know policy better than most people in their field. Those of us who have read proposed legislation, or looked at a government law, know that it is very boring work.

The study conducted by Harvard again dispels the public misconception about lobbying:

“Contrary to public misconception, the daily life of firm lobbyists is not filled with glamorous parties and smoke-filled backroom politicking where lobbyists engage in quid pro quo transactions of money for policy. Rather, as described, these firm lobbyists focus their professional attention on honing the fine art of building relationships, primarily with members of Congress and their staffs”

According to the Harvard researchers, the bulk of a lobbyists day was filled with researching and analyzing legislation, looking at local media for relevant stories, attending Congressional hearings, and meeting with lawmakers and their staff to make their case for their specific issue. Lobbyists persistently work to make their case as to why supporting their issue is good for the country and their constituents, and why not supporting it would be a mistake.

Myth: Only large corporations or special interest groups can hire lobbyists.

Fact: With our innovative platform, now anyone can hire a lobbyist to help influence lawmakers on an issue, action, or legislation.

We know that if everyday people had access to lobbyists then we could begin to level. You can check it out here and see all the great work we are doing giving everyday people a stronger voice in government. Our goal is to give every day U.S. citizens access to the same influential lobbyists that corporations and special interest groups currently have. We at Lobbyists 4 Good have built the first crowdfunding platform that allows everyday folks like you and me to hire professional lobbyists to work on our behalf. It’s simple really: anybody can start a campaign, and if it meets our Founding Principles, we will host it on our platform. If your campaign raises $5,000, we hire a professional lobbyist to work for you! We don’t take a cut of your donation. 100% goes towards paying the lobbying fees.


Billy is the Co-founder and CEO of Lobbyists 4 Good.


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