Often times when we hear the term “lobbyist” we think sleaze, greed, and corruption. The media, and daily political talk in general, paint lobbyists as parasites, a Washington nuisance. But the people who describe lobbyists as such would only be half correct.
Lobbying, and the reason for its name, is disputed. Some believe the “advocacy industry” came about under President Grant after the Civil War. Some also claim the term came from a local government in Ohio, and others present the case of lobbying being derived from Parliament.
Assuming the President Grant story, the term “lobbying” is received from the advocacy representatives waiting to discuss their interests to President Grant in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, a place he often frequented.
Regardless of where the profession was born, it is, nonetheless, a two-sided career. I am referring to the ethical agenda behind it. Simply put, you can be a good lobbyist or a bad lobbyist depending on how you conduct your advocacy. As Newsweek points out, the difference between ethical and corrupt lobbying is synonymous to bribery versus representation. Is the lobbyist lining politicians pockets, making campaign contributions, or offering lump sums of change? Or is the lobbyist fighting for his or her interests in the policymaking process and forming personal relationships with policymakers without offering a single dime?
In Washington, there are both.
Former President Obama, and President Trump, have voiced their opinions on corrupt lobbyists through regulation, which is meant to to weed out these corrupt lobbyists.
Lobbyists, often formally titled Director of Government Relations, are legal. In fact, the art of persuasion and advocacy used by these professionals is outlined in the First Amendment. The amendment we all know as the protector of religion, speech, press, and assembly, also protects the freedom to lobby.
It falls under the right to petition or, specifically, the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
As stated by Charles Krauthammer, a well-known political commentator, “It is a cherished First Amendment right — necessary, like the others, to protect a free people against overbearing and potentially tyrannical government.”
To clarify, government relations, when conducted ethically, is essential to our political process and serves as representations for business, interest groups, education, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and the list goes on and on. Lobbyists and the act of lobbying are not terms of political distaste or corruption. Lobbying, in its purest form, actually promotes healthy pluralism, activism, and democratic participation.