What do lobbyists do?

In 2015, researchers at Harvard University wanted to know how and why lobbyists are able to influence our elected officials.


Instead of relying on public opinion surveys, inaccurate media reports, and campaign speeches about lobbyists, they decided they would spend some time following actual lobbyists around and examine their day-to-day activities and routines. 

After 11-months of shadowing lobbyists and conducting extensive interviews, they came up with some interesting findings of lobbying and the influence industry.

How do lobbyists influence Congress?

The study came to some interesting conclusions. Despite the common belief that lobbyists purchase influence from members of Congress through political donations, the researchers quickly found something different, which they call "The Relationship Market". Their findings are summarized in the three sentences below:

"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, but also with potential clients, coalitions, and other individuals and organizations related to their clients and issue areas. And this focus on relationships is reflected in the practices that fill their daily lives as they build, preserve, and then commodify these relationships."

In a summary, the researchers found that lobbying is more about building relationships, and less about money.

Lobbying is more social than transactional

Most people, firm in their belief that money buys influence, immediately dismiss these findings as false. But we encourage readers to put aside their assumptions and listen to a well-respected freshman Congresswoman.

Regardless of your political beliefs, nobody can deny that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is trying to shine a light on corporate influence in American politics. She has earned the trust of millions of people on social media and tries to highlight the problems she faces as a new member of Congress. She recently made an observation about lobbyists that gives a good definition of lobbyists.

Many of the daily activities of lobbyists surprised the researchers, especially because they found that most of a lobbyists time is spent building relationships with members of Congress and their staff. The study also found some interesting perspectives on the role of money in politics, which we will describe at the end of the list. 


Here are some daily activities of lobbyists: 

Many lobbyists reported that the first thing they do in the morning is a search for relevant news articles about their issue or client's issue. If they found anything relevant to a member of Congress or a staff they have a relationship with, they would shoot an email to him or her and give them a heads up.


This is especially important if they find a news piece, op-ed, or a relevant study that deals with a member of Congress's district or state. 

Lobbyists reported this is helpful for the staffer because they are able to stay up-to-date on issues impacting their district without having to do much work.

Researchers found that lobbyists spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill so they can run into a member of Congress and their professional staff. Lobbyists saw this as a good way to maintain relationships without having to ask for any of the members of Congress's time. 

Many lobbyists would attend congressional hearings for the same purpose, to informally meet with members of Congress and their staff. Researchers found that these conversations would naturally flow to the lobbyist's work and their client's interests, and use the opportunity to remind the representatives how their client's work impacted voters in their district or state.

Researchers found that lobbyists provided legislative support to lawmakers and their staffs, in the form of policy reports, draft statutory language, private information and data regarding constituents, inside political and legislative information, and lobbying support to gather cosponsors or rally defeats.


These types of activities have been well-publicized as a form of corruption, but it was often viewed as a form of support to a lawmakers’ office between lobbyists and staffers. Since most staffers in Congress are extremely understaffed, staffers appreciated the assistance as the support made them more successful at their job. 

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