What is a lobbyist?
Corporate lobbyists have hijacked our democracy. We need to understand how lobbyists work in order to level the playing field between us and large companies and special interest groups.
Think it is all done through bribery? The truth will surprise you!
The definition of 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.
Who pays lobbyists?
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.
Are all lobbyists bad?
Not necessarily. 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 us and the nefarious corporate lobbyists in Washingon, D.C.:
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
Do lobbyists bribe elected officials?
This is a common misconception, and the truth is that MOST lobbyists do not bribe public officials. The research was done by Harvard University that studied lobbying and how lobbyists are influential. Take a look at the findings that Harvard researchers concluded about lobbyists and how they get their influence:
"Contrary to public misconception, the daily life of a lobbyist is not filled with glamorous parties and smoke-filled backroom politicking where lobbyists engage in quid pro quo transactions of money for policy. Rather, lobbyists focus their professional attention on honing the fine art of building relationships, primarily with members of Congress and their staffs... and this focus on relationships is reflected in the practices that fill their daily lives as they build, preserve, and then commodify these relationships."
While the media likes to cast all lobbyists as corrupt bribers, the reality is that a few bad actors have given the impression that all lobbyists are corrupt. While it would be easy to believe and makes lobbyists a good villain for all that is wrong with Congress, the reality is that it is simply not true.
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.
What do lobbyists do?
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.
Are there other definitions of lobbyists?
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.
The problem with the dictionary definition of a lobbyist 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.
Unfortunately, these definitions leave open giant loopholes. These loopholes allow people who are clearly lobbyists not to have to register as a lobbyist. For example, two former Speakers of the House, Newt Gingrich, and John Boehner, were both hired by D.C. lobbying firms and neither have to register as a lobbyist.
How can everyday people hire lobbyists?
Countless studies have shown that the best way to pass a law or change a policy in D.C. is by lobbying.
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. Our platform lets you raise money to hire a lobbyist to work for you!
Check out the VICE News Tonight segment about our work and consider supporting our amazing citizen advocates and their important issues.