Over the last several decades, the word “lobbyist” has become synonymous with some of the worst words in the political vocabulary. Many have labeled it, rightly or wrongly, as a form of corruption. Is that a fair assessment? Perhaps in some instances, it is. Yet, the caricature of lobbyists running from lawmaker to lawmaker bribing them for special favors may not be entirely representative of the trade, or correct for that matter.
Many Americans don’t realize that lobbying has been a part of governing since the country’s foundation. In 1792, Virginia veterans of the Continental Army hired William Hull. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in Washington’s army. Later he was elected official from Massachusetts. He was also elected captain of the prestigious military organization, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. The veterans hired him to lobby the new Congress to compensate them more for their sacrifices.
In the 1830s, the word “lobbyist” first appeared in Ohio politics. The term was commonly used to refer to anyone who talked with a lawmaker regarding a special interest, i.e., a specific issue. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Congress began passing restrictions and requirements on the practice. Lobbying peaked in 2010 and has since been on a slow decline. Registered lobbyists are fewer, as is the amount of money by corporations directly influencing lawmakers. Still, that doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared; it just means they’ve changed how they do business.
Perhaps the public’s impressions of lobbyists have more to do with how and what the media reports. Some define the job of a professional advocate as working to influence political decisions on behalf of an organization, business, or individuals. There are many different ways to meet this definition. For example, the most popular is the picture of a high-powered, highly politically connected individual twisting arms and paying off lawmakers for special legislative favors.
Recently, I was talking with a friend who is highly connected with lawmakers and lobbyists. While some old-school lobbyists still attempt this form of company promotion, it’s becoming rare. In addition, not all lobbyists are in it for money. Some are advocates for great causes in the nonprofit world that have nothing to do with politics, per se. They aren’t there to bribe anyone but to advocate for an issue to lawmakers, regulators, and other government decision-makers.
Consider this perspective for a moment. Several years ago, then-Pennsylvania Speaker of the House, Bryan Cutler, shared with me the interactions he had with lobbyists over his years in elected office. By far and large, he noted, they were a wealth of information. Here’s the thing we often don’t consider in the debate…
Lawmakers at the state and federal levels come from varied backgrounds. Some were specialized lawyers. Others were highly successful business people. Still, some came from ordinary life and decided they needed to run for public office for one reason or another. When it comes to all of the policy decisions that inform a law, how could one possibly know everything when it comes to complicated matters? Details are important in complex issues. One thing affects another. What are the intended consequences and unintended ones? Could a law have serious repercussions?
Think about it. What do the overwhelming number of politicians know about how energy markets or companies work? What about the complexities of healthcare, manufacturing, or virtually anything else one can think of? While politicians say one thing in public, they are also talking with experts behind the scenes to grasp complex issues. These experts are often lobbyists who are ready and willing to share how their industries, companies, and products work within the bigger picture.
The modern lobbyist’s role isn’t just to advocate for a law that benefits themselves or their companies. Of course, that is a role, but no longer THE role. Today, they serve as people who educate and inform lawmakers. Their role is to be a resource first and an advocate second. The best ones are profoundly respected and perform vital functions. These individuals also don’t mind rules that regulate their profession. They want to be regarded as professionals who are dignified and esteemed for their work.
In the coming weeks and months, I hope to introduce you to some highly regarded people who work as lobbyists in various fields and have expertise that many in the public might never know exist. Why do they do this work? How does it help the public and government officials?
I hope you discover how the profession is changing for the better. That’s not to say there aren’t bad apples and corruption doesn’t exist. It may very well. My point is that the profession of lobbying overall can have a positive purpose and outcome.
I’m looking forward to introducing you to some people who have interesting and exciting careers that influence the political process and conservative causes. It’s time we start thinking about these professionals in a new light who serve a vital role in American politics.
The Conservative Era, Copyright 2023