What is a lobbyist?

What is 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.

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 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:

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)

Corporate Lobbyists

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. 

There are many things lobbyists do to try to influence the government. These include, but are not limited to: 

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  • 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 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.

Merriam Webster defines a lobbyist as one who tries to influence public officials.

A lobbyist is one who conducts activities aimed at influencing of swaying public officials.

Dictionary.com defines lobbyists as a person who takes part in an organized attempt to influence legislators.

A lobbyist is a person who takes part in an organized attempt to influence legislators.

A lobbyist is someone who tries to persuade a politician or official group to do something.

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:

The United States Senate Seal which shows the Lobbying Disclosure Act definition of lobbyists

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. 

California state seal and their definition of a lobbyist

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.

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