Lobbying is something that has been taking place for many years. People who have special interests and want to see specific things happen throughout the country often hire lawyers and others who have connections. These connected people will then argue for legislation - generally in Congress. The way lobbyists work can be easily misunderstood, and it is generally quite controversial. A large segment of the American public seems to be very concerned about how lobbyists operate and whether they have the best interests of the country at heart, or whether they are only concerned about the group or cause for which they are lobbying. However, there are many rules that lobbyists must follow. If they do not follow all of the appropriate rules they can be fined and even sent to jail (Clemens, 1997). Lobbying was determined to be free speech by the courts, so it is protected by the Constitution (Tichenor & Harris, 2002).
Beginning in the 1970s, lobbying started to grow rapidly (Baumgartner & Leech, 1998). The budgets that are offered for lobbying are much larger now than they used to be, which has allowed for more individuals to move forward as lobbyists, and for more causes and organizations to hire lobbyists in an effort to make themselves heard when it comes to new legislation. In order to lobby, a company must extensively disclose lobbying information. That disclosure allows the public to see the data about who is lobbying, how much that particular group is spending, and where the lobbying is taking place. Understanding to whom the lobbying is directed can be just as important as understanding who is lobbying and how much they are spending. Corporations are generally the largest of the lobbyers, but there are others who also undertake lobbying (Balogh, 2003). It is something seen at nearly every level within the government, and it is not in any way restricted to the Congress or to federal levels of control.
There are both pros and cons to the modern way of lobbying. Some arguments in favor of the practice indicate that lobbying helps to bring new and important information to those who are in government (Loomis, 2009). Without the lobbyists, it is argued, people in Congress or other ruling bodies may not be aware of everything taking place or the significance of some of the changes that "should" be made in the country. The interest groups square off with one another and compete, and the finances and abilities of one interest group often determines whether that group wins or loses (Balogh, 2003). There can also be stalemates seen in lobbying, because there are many different ways in which arguments can end. Despite the concerns about lobbying, it is clear that these battles are being won and lost in an effort to bring more information to light and provide Congress with more choices. It also shows Congress how the choices may affect the American people or how many of those people are convinced that one idea, choice, or cause is significantly more important or more valuable than another.
A general (and very broad) sentiment regarding the pros of lobbying is that all citizens are represented that way (Baumgartner & Leech, 1998). For example, if a powerful, special interest group is able to get Congress to make some changes, there will be people who will benefit from that. Everyone in the country is in some kind of special interest group in some way, either based on their race or color, something they believe in, or another factor or facet to their personality. By representing the people and guarding against extremism, lobbying can be seen by many to be a very helpful way to make changes that will benefit the largest segment of society. Congress and other lawmakers are often said to be out of touch with what people really need when it comes to making laws and deciding on policies. If that is the case, then lobbying can be used to show these people the issues that are being faced by the public. It can help them become more "in touch" with the people they are supposed to represent.
No idea is perfect, and this is certainly true of lobbying. Despite the pros of the practice there are also cons. Not everyone agrees that lobbying is a good idea, of course, and there are people in Congress and throughout the country in general who feel that lobbyists should be stopped. The biggest con with lobbying is money (Balogh, 2003). Lobbyists are often paid a lot of money to do what they do. They are "hired guns," so to speak, and they don't always appear to care who they hurt or what they are really lobbying for or against, as long as the money is right. With that being the case, it is pretty easy to see that many people are concerned about the validity of lobbying and about the validity of the lobbyists themselves as it relates to what they are offering to Congress and to the public. While there are other issues where lobbying is concerned, money is the largest focus.
Some of the reasoning behind that comes from the "extreme lobbying" that has taken place in the past. For example, various religious groups have used more than $400 million to lobby for issues related to civil rights for those who are in religious minorities, family, end-of-life, and capital punishment issues, abortion and other bioethics issues, and the relationship between church and state (Loomis, 2009). Many lobbyists are paid near or above $1 million per year on average, which makes society very concerned about the idea that the lobbyist is only after the money. There have also been scandals in lobbying in the past, such as those involving allegations of bribery. When there is negative publicity seen for lobbyists, the entire idea of lobbying takes another "hit" in the court of public opinion. Abramoff's case of lobbying fraud was very high profile, and even household political names like Newt Gingrich have been accused of lobbying (Loomis, 2009). Gingrich denied it, but there are still many who believe that the money he was paid for "strategic advice" was, in fact, for lobbying. He was not found guilty of anything, but it did taint the public's opinion of him.
One thing is certain: most lobbyists make a lot of money. Whether they are lobbyists because they believe in a cause, or simply because they want to get paid, is certainly something that can be argued. However, tighter financial controls are needed if lobbying is to be controlled. That is not to say that lobbying is all bad. There are definitely both pros and cons. Despite the fact that lobbying does provide some good for people throughout the country, what is most important is the fact that true lobbyists who really had a deep desire to represent the people and help the country move forward would still lobby even if they were paid much, much less than they currently make. With that in mind, those who are only in lobbying for the money would be much more likely to get out of the "game" if they were no longer getting paid. The potential effects of tighter financial regulations are enormous when it comes to how much good lobbyists could do while weeding out those who are only interested in seeing how much money others will give them.
When people lobby for something, it should be because they believe in that cause and want to stand up for it. It should be because they believe that people need and deserve the good things that a particular cause can provide. If that is not the case, they should not be lobbying. Like so many agendas, too much of…