What is lobbying?

Most people think lobbying is "the act of bribing politicians". But let's take a look at what lobbying really is, how lobbying works, examples of lobbying, and why lobbying is legal in the United States. The real answer to these questions might surprise you... 

What is the definition of lobbying?

Lobbying is the act of as trying to influence a politician or public official on an issue.

Who can lobby Congress?

Anybody can lobby Congress. It is guaranteed in the First Amendment that all Americans have the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 

Most corporations and associations hire professionals to lobby Congress on their behalf. These people are the ones who get paid big bucks to lobby Congress and these professionals are what people typically think of when they hear the word lobbyists.

Public interest groups, like labor unions and nonprofits, also hire professionals to lobby the government, but they are outspent $34 to $1 by corporations and special interest groups

What are some examples of lobbying?

Corporations spend over THREE BILLION DOLLARS each year to hire lobbyists to lobby Congress. Below are some recent examples of lobbying:

Tax Breaks

In 2017, more than 6,000 lobbyists lobbied for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2018. Because of the law, companies pay fewer taxes than ever before.

Over 1,000 lobbyists worked on the 21st Century Cures Act, which authorized $6.3 billion in funding and changed the drug approval process at the FDA  

Drug Approvals

Space Exploration

Aerospace startups SpaceX and Blue Origin hired over 55 lobbyists last year to pass laws allowing commercial space flights and private satellite launches. 

How do you hire a lobbyist?

What is lobbying and how does it work?

Here are a couple of examples of lobbying that lobbyists do to influence politicians: 

  • Meet one-on-one with lawmakers and staff to convince them to support a certain law or policy

  • Persuade lawmakers to propose, pass, or amend legislation during the committee mark-up process

  • Work with government agencies to change existing regulations and oversight

  • Provide relevant information to lawmakers about their home districts and voters

  • Research policy solutions for their issue and share that with congressional staff

  • Identify "champions" for the cause and encourage them to introduce legislation

  • Build relationships with lawmakers and their staff through networking

  • Partner with other organizations in the field and form coalitions with specific goals

  • Train advocates in other organizations on how they can become better advocates

Why is it called lobbying?

The term lobbying first appeared in print in 1820 describing members of the Senate "lobbying" members of the House of Representatives to take up a piece of legislation they passed. 


A famous story claims that the term lobbying originated at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. The story states that President Ulysses S. Grant used the term to describe the political advocates who frequented the hotel's lobby and would then try to buy the president drinks in an attempt to influence his political decisions.


However, in a report carried by the BBC, a historian showed that "lobbying" has its roots in the gathering of Members of Parliament and peers in the hallways ("lobbies") of the UK Houses of Parliament before and after parliamentary debates where members of the public can meet their representatives.

Lobbying is legal because of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. It states:


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The last part, the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, means that people, corporations, trade associations, nonprofits, and even local state and county governments have the right to make a complaint to or seek the assistance of the government—in other words, they have the right to lobby Congress.


A Supreme Court ruling in 1954 reaffirmed the legality of lobbying in the United States. In an opinion, Justice Jackson wrote that many lobbyists are "entirely honest and respectable representatives of business, professional, and philanthropic organizations who come to Washington openly and frankly to express their views for or against the legislation, many of whom serve a useful and perfectly legitimate purpose."

Therefore, as long as lobbyists follow the rules governing their activities, lobbying is a legal activity because it is a guaranteed right in the First Amendment

Researchers from Harvard University looked into the question:


"Is lobbying bribery?"


After studying lobbyists for almost a year, they concluded that lobbyists are not professional bribers.


They were able to boil down what makes lobbyists so influential to two sentences:


“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, 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.”

Instead, they found that lobbyists got their influence by making and maintaining relationships with lawmakers and their staff. They would use these relationships to influence legislators to support issues they cared about.

Want to lobby Congress like a professional?  Download our free e-book, The Advocacy Guide:

The Advocacy Guide that explains how to lobby Congress like a professional D.C. lobbyist

The Advocacy Guide teaches you everything you need to know about influencing Congress.  

Our team has over: 


  • 20 years of experience working for Congress,

  • 8 years of experience lobbying Congress, and 

  • 32 years of experience working in public service.


With our 50 years of experience, let us show you how to influence Congress and get your voice heard!

What are some lobbying activities?

The definition of a lobbyist is somebody who conducts lobbying activities to try to influence Congress. They are:

Meeting one-on-one with lawmakers to convince them to support certain legislation

Convince government agencies to change their federal regulations

Persuading members of Congress to amend legislation during committee mark-ups

Identify "champions" for the cause and persuade them to introduce legislation

What is lobbying in simple terms?

In 2017, we lobbied Congress and secured a 2.5 million dollar increase in funding for the U.S. Institute of Peace.


Here are the 8 steps we took to successfully lobby Congress: