Facing the opposition: The goods and evils of lobbying
Because what’s so bad about the act of persuasion?
Let’s kick this off with some high school history class. If you can recall U.S. Gov, or even Civics back in middle school, chances are you’ve heard of lobbying.
Lobbying is nothing new, it’s protected within our very constitution. Our very first amendment says we have a right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” so lobbying is covered right? And it’s a good thing? That may be oversimplifying it.
So what is lobbying?
Lobbying is the act of attempting to persuade the government, usually via talking or writing. But of course, that doesn’t make every petitioner a lobbyist.
It’s a little more complicated than that.
Just because you leave a voicemail for a government office expressing your support for a bill, doesn’t make you a lobbyist. Exact lobbyist laws vary from state to state, so it’s important to check your own and be aware.
However, there are some general rules that make for a lobbyist. For example, lobbyists are usually paid for lobbying by someone else.
It’s not always the person who wants whatever specific legislation to pass, pushing it for themselves [although that sometimes IS the case, if you remember the Tiger King documentary]…
And lobbying only has to be documented, once it reaches or surpasses a particular threshold.
It’s not exactly bribery…
Obviously, not all lobbying is a bad thing. It is important to be able to advertise our wants and advocate them to the government.
Just like there are groups that lobby for not-so-great things, there are groups that lobby for great things as well, like labor unions and even the ACLU.
The problem with lobbying is not the inherent act, but two things. There’s the dependency that some legislators have developed to it. Plus, money determines how loud your voice is in a lot of ways.
It’s all about the fine print, baby
Companies can’t just directly give money to policymakers, especially those up for reelection. I mean, you cannot even give a gift to a legislator for the most part, unless you are family or friends.
Lobbyists don’t just outright give money to politicians, either. That would be illegal. So instead, things have to be a bit…craftier.
That evil lobbying
For example, let’s say you’re raising money for a politician’s reelection campaign via a fundraiser.
In New York, you can’t give gifts, but politicians can receive an honorary degree, complimentary food at a widely attended event, oh, and political contributions.
And so, a dependency is in the making. If lobbyists start to fund your campaign consistently, it can become a conflict of interest for a legislator quickly.
Who do they make happy? When it comes to policy work, who should they follow, the people they are serving, or the people that are funding them?
This isn’t just a moral ground thing, either. Did I mention that lobbyists actually draft up bills for legislators to pass?
Is it possible to get to “good lobbying?”
Lobbyists suggest language and particular phrasing for bills to go through. Sometimes, they create a model bill for policymakers to follow.
In an investigation by USA Today and the Arizona Republic, they found that at least 10,000 bills that entered into the state government legislative houses, had copied direct fragments from model bills proposed by lobbyists.
Lobbyists, basically, try to use every tool in their arsenal to make the bill they want to pass, easier.
Even if it is finding other Congress members to sponsor the bill, lobbyists try as much as they (legally) can to make the bill easier to pass and easier for a policymaker to get behind.
While of course, whether the bill gets passed depends on Congress when they vote for a bill, lobbying is still playing a very big role.
Even if you ignore the whole dependency situation, the reality is that money talks. It’s nearly impossible for smaller companies and individuals to compete with the money that big corporations like Amazon, can throw.
Amazon spent almost half a billion in 2019, lobbying.
The more money a campaign has the more likely it will succeed in an election. It doesn’t predict the outcome, but it can help. Plus, the high price tag prevents candidates from other backgrounds from entering. It creates a barrier to running.
Let’s consider the facts all together now. Congress’ representatives have a dependency on lobbyists and use the exact wording that lobbyists ask them to use on their bills. Congress does not make it easy for regular citizens (who are not wealthy) to be heard.
So if Congress seems to listen more closely to those with money and lobbying power, wouldn’t you, a member of the public, wonder where you stand?