Lobbying (also Persuasion) is the act of attempting to influence the actions, policies, or decisions of officials in their daily life, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Lobbying is done by many types of people, associations and organized groups, including individuals in the private sector, corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, or advocacy groups (interest groups). Lobbyists may be among a legislator's constituencies, meaning a voter or bloc of voters within their electoral district, or not; they may engage in lobbying as a business, or not. Professional lobbyists are people whose business is trying to influence legislation, regulation, or other government decisions, actions, or policies on behalf of a group or individual who hires them. Individuals and nonprofit organizations can also lobby as an act of volunteering or as a small part of their normal job (for instance, a CEO meeting with a representative about a project important to their company, or an activist meeting with their legislator in an unpaid capacity). Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying that has become influential.
- Public lobbyist registers
- European Union
- United States
- Other countries
The ethics and morality of lobbying are dual-edged. Lobbying is often spoken of with contempt, when the implication is that people with inordinate socioeconomic power are corrupting the law (twisting it away from fairness) in order to serve their own interests. When people who have a duty to act on behalf of others, such as elected officials with a duty to serve their constituents' interests or more broadly the public good, can benefit by shaping the law to serve the interests of some private parties, a conflict of interest exists. Many critiques of lobbying point to the potential for conflicts of interest to lead to agent misdirection or the intentional failure of an agent with a duty to serve an employer, client, or constituent to perform those duties. The failure of government officials to serve the public interest as a consequence of lobbying by special interests who provide benefits to the official is an example of agent misdirection.
In contrast, another side of lobbying is making sure that others' interests are duly defended against others' corruption, or even simply making sure that minority interests are fairly defended against mere tyranny of the majority. For example, a medical association may lobby a legislature about increasing the restrictions in smoking prevention laws, and tobacco companies lobby to reduce them: the first regarding smoking as injurious to health and the second arguing it is part of the freedom of choice.
In a report carried by the BBC, an OED lexicographer has shown that "lobbying" finds 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.
One story held that the term originated at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, where it was supposedly used by President Ulysses S. Grant to describe the political advocates who frequented the hotel's lobby to access Grant—who was often there in the evenings to enjoy a cigar and brandy—and would then try to buy the president drinks in an attempt to influence his political decisions. Although the term may have gained more widespread currency in Washington, D.C. by virtue of this practice during the Grant Administration, the OED cites numerous documented uses of the word well before Grant's presidency, including use in Pennsylvania as early as 1808.
The term "lobbying" also appeared in print as early as 1820:
Other letters from Washington affirm, that members of the Senate, when the compromise question was to be taken in the House, were not only "lobbying about the Representatives' Chamber" but also active in endeavoring to intimidate certain weak representatives by insulting threats to dissolve the Union.
Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying as part of laws to prevent political corruption and by establishing transparency about possible influences by public lobby registers.
Lobby groups may concentrate their efforts on the legislatures, where laws are created, but may also use the judicial branch to advance their causes. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for example, filed suits in state and federal courts in the 1950s to challenge segregation laws. Their efforts resulted in the Supreme Court declaring such laws unconstitutional.
They may use a legal device known as amicus curiae, literally "friend of the court," briefs to try to influence court cases. Briefs are written documents filed with a court, typically by parties to a lawsuit. Amici curiae briefs are briefs filed by people or groups who are not parties to a suit. These briefs are entered into the court records, and give additional background on the matter being decided upon. Advocacy groups use these briefs both to share their expertise and to promote their positions.
Over the past twenty years lobbying in Australia has grown from a small industry of a few hundred employees to a multibillion-dollar per year industry. Lobbying has become a political fact of life and is now endemic in local, state, and federal government. It is not just the local councillors and state and federal politicians being lobbied. What was once the preserve of big multinational companies and at a more local level, property developers, for example Urban Taskforce Australia, has morphed into an industry that would employ more than 10,000 people and represent every facet of human endeavour.
In Australia, lobbyists are expected to organise a pass to obtain access to the federal parliament. The Parliamentary Pass must be signed by two parliamentarians. It is administered by the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) and has the enforcement of the Criminal Code Act 1995. The Pass is valid for two years.
However, the Parliamentary Pass is not absolutely necessary, as some lobbyists are simply signed in on the day of their visit as guests of Senators or Members. Moreover, there are some advocacy groups in Australia that can lobby without passes. For example, in 1995, following the lobbying done by The Affiliated Residential Park Residents Association Incorporated (ARPRA) and other interested tenant organizations, the Government created new legislation to provide residential park residents with improved protection. The Residential Parks Act of 1996 became the operating tool for the conduct of residents and park owners alike. In 1998, following further lobbying for the legislative review and revision of the 1996 Act, the Residential Parks Act of 1998 became law.
When lobbyists visit most federal government departments, they must also sign a register.
Public lobbyist registers
A register of federal lobbyists is kept by the Australian Government and is accessible to the public via its website. Similar registers for State government lobbyists were introduced between 2007 and 2009 around Australia. Since April 2007 in Western Australia, only lobbyists listed on the state's register are allowed to contact a government representative for the purpose of lobbying. Similar rules have applied in Tasmania since 1 September 2009 and in South Australia and Victoria since 1 December 2009.
With the Enlargement of the European Union in 2004, lobbying practices have taken a further step, bringing in not only a lot more players and stakeholders but a wide range of different political cultures and traditions, as well. According to Austrian Member of the European Parliament ("MEP") Hans-Peter Martin, the value of lobby invitations and offers each individual MEP receives can reach up to €10,000 per week.
In 2003 there were around 15,000 lobbyists (consultants, lawyers, associations, corporations, NGOs etc.) in Brussels seeking to influence the EU’s legislation. Some 2,600 special interest groups had a permanent office in Brussels. Their distribution was roughly as follows: European trade federations (32%), consultants (20%), companies (13%), NGOs (11%), national associations (10%), regional representations (6%), international organizations (5%) and think tanks (1%), (Lehmann, 2003, pp iii). In addition to this, lobby organisations sometimes hire former EU employees (a phenomenon known as the revolving door) who possess inside knowledge of the EU institutions and policy process A report by Transparency International EU published in January 2017 analysed the career paths of former EU officials and found that 30% of Members of the European Parliament who left politics went to work for organisations on the EU lobby register after their mandate and approximately one third of Commissioners serving under Barroso took jobs in the private sector after their mandate, including for Uber, ArcelorMittal, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. These potential conflicts of interest could be avoided if a stronger ethics framework would be established at the EU level, including an independent ethics body and longer cooling-off periods for MEPs.
The fragmented nature of the EU's institutional structure provides multiple channels through which organized interests may seek to influence policymaking. Lobbying takes place at the European level itself and within the existing national states. The most important institutional targets are the Commission, the Council, and the European Parliament. The Commission has a monopoly on the initiative in Community decision-making. Since it has the power to draft initiatives, it makes it ideally suited as an arena for interest representation.
There are three main channels of indirect lobbying of the Council. First, lobbying groups routinely lobby the national delegations in Brussels. The second indirect means of lobbying the Council is for interest groups to lobby members of the many Council-working groups. The third means of influencing the Council is directly via national governments. As a consequence of the co-decision procedures, the European Parliament attracts attention from lobbyists who target the rapporteur and the chairman of the committee. The rapporteurs are MEPs appointed by Committees to prepare the parliament’s response to the Commission’s proposal and to those measures taken by the Parliament itself.
Lobbying in Brussels was born only in the late 1970s. Up to that time, "diplomatic lobbying" at the highest levels remained the rule. There were few lobbyists involved in the system and except for some business associations, representative offices were rarely used. The event that sparked the explosion of lobbying was the first direct election of the European Parliament in 1979. Up until then, the Parliament consisted of a complex, and companies increasingly felt the need of an expert local presence to find out what was going on in Brussels. The foundation of lobbying was therefore the need to provide information. From that developed the need to influence the process actively and effectively. The next important step in lobbying development was the Single European Act of 1986, which both created the qualified majority vote for taking decisions in the Council of the European Union (the "Council") and enhanced the role of the Parliament, again making EU legislation more complex and lobbying further more important and attractive for stakeholders.
In the wake of the Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal in Washington D.C. and the massive impact this had on the lobbying scene in the United States, the rules for lobbying in the EU—which until now consist of only a non-binding code of conduct-—may also be tightened.
In France, the political system does not integrate the lobbying practice. Much French republican thought has been suspicious of the claims of "particular interests," which are often contrasted with the "general interest" of the nation. This is one interpretation of Rousseau's Social Contract, for example. So while lobbying has always been practiced in France, organized lobbying made a significant appearance in France only in the early 1980s. Since then, it has steadily grown; many interest groups routinely seek to influence the French institutions as the Government and the French Parliament (“National Assembly” and “Senate”). To make up the lost time, more and more French enterprises try to organize their own lobbies by creating their own public affairs department. In recent years, growing numbers of grassroots and grasstop lobbies have been organized by citizen groups, representing interests such as genetically modified organisms or the defense of civil liberties in the digital realm (see digital rights).
But there is currently no regulation at all for lobbying activities in France and, as a consequence, this practice suffers from a lack of transparency. There is no regulated access to the French institutions and no register specific to France, but there is one for the European Union where French lobbyists can register themselves. For example, the internal rule of the National Assembly (art. 23 and 79) forbid to members of Parliament to be linked with a particular interest. However, MPs don’t have to declare their interest and the list of MPs' assistants is not public. At last, there is no rule at all for consultation of interest groups by the Parliament and the Government. Nevertheless, a recent parliamentary initiative (motion for a resolution) has been launched by several MPs so as to establish a register for representatives of interest groups and lobbyists who intend to lobby the MPs. The purpose of this initiative is to introduce standards of conduct and access to the National Assembly. Through the use of a register, these standards of conduct and access will enable the Assembly to identify and maintain a list of the representatives of interest groups who follow legislative activity and to supervise fully the access of those representatives to the National Assembly. This motion has not been adopted yet.
A 2016 study finds evidence of significant indirect lobbying of Berlusconi through business proxies. The authors document a significant pro-Mediaset (the mass media company founded and controlled by Berlusconi) bias in the allocation of advertising spending during Berlusconi's political tenure, in particular for companies operating in more regulated sectors.
In Slovenia, lobbying has been regulated since 5 December 2010, when the statutory provisions of Integrity and Prevention of Corruption Act (IPCA) came into force. IPCA regulates lobbying at both the national and local levels. Commission for the Prevention of Corruption of the Republic of Slovenia is the national focal point for lobbying oversight. Commission conducts investigations into allegations of illegal lobbying and violations of lobbying regulation. Commission also issuess a decision on entry into the register and maintains the mandatory central register of lobbyists. The special feature of IPCA regarding lobbying are provisions that require government or local officials or civil servants to report all lobbying contacts, which are within the Project Transparency published on Commissions website. Lobbying is also one of the six mandatory risks which entities, obliged to draw up and implement integrity plan, are supposed to address in integrity plan of their institution.
Lobbying in the United States describes paid activity in which special interests hire professional advocates to argue for specific legislation in decision-making bodies such as the United States Congress. It is a controversial phenomenon, often seen in a negative light by journalists and the American public, and frequently misunderstood. While lobbying is subject to extensive and often complex rules which, if not followed, can lead to penalties including prison, the activity of lobbying has been interpreted by court rulings as free speech and protected by the US Constitution. Since the 1970s, lobbying activity has grown in terms of the numbers of lobbyists and the size of lobbying budgets, and has become the focus of criticism of American governance. Since lobbying rules require extensive disclosure, there is a wealth of data in the public sphere about which entities lobby, how, at whom, and for how much. The current pattern suggests much lobbying is done by corporations, although a wide variety of coalitions representing diverse groups is possible. Lobbying happens at every level of government, including federal, state, county, and even municipal. In Washington, DC, lobbying usually targets congresspersons, although there have been efforts to influence executive agency officials as well as US Supreme Court appointments. It has been the subject of academic inquiry in various fields, including economics, law, and public policy. While lobbyists number 12,000 people in Washington, DC, those with real clout number in the dozens, and a small group of firms handles much of lobbying in terms of expenditures. As an activity, lobbying takes time to learn, requires skill and sensitivity, depends on deft persuasion, and has much in common with generally non-political activities such as management consulting and public relations. Some lobbyists are now are using social media to reduce the cost of traditional campaigns, and to more precisely target public officials with political messages.
A number of published studies showed lobbying expenditures can yield great financial returns. For example, a 2011 study of the 50 firms that spent the most on lobbying relative to their assets compared their financial performance against that of the S&P 500 in the stock market concluded that spending on lobbying was a "spectacular investment" yielding "blistering" returns comparable to a high-flying hedge fund, even despite the financial downturn of the past few years. A 2011 meta-analysis of previous research findings found a positive correlation between corporate political activity and firm performance. Finally, a 2009 study found that lobbying brought a substantial return on investment, as much as 22,000% in some cases.
Other countries where lobbying is regulated in parliamentary bills include: