How Lobbying Works

What Lobbyists Do

Lobbyists are full-time advocates for their clients. There is no universal job description for a lobbyist. The job responsibilities run the gamut from conducting highly technical policy research to throwing a successful dinner party. The best lobbyists are highly effective communicators with solid people skills, a strong command of the issues, a broad network of contacts and a flair for fundraising.

One of the main responsibilities of a lobbyist is to become an expert on the legislative issues affecting his client. The lobbyist needs to closely monitor the development of legislation that could impact the client's organization, whether it's increased regulation and taxation, or increased federal funding opportunities. Lobbyists not only need to understand the critical legislative issues, but also the byzantine legislative process.

During each stage of the legislative process, the lobbyist must press his client's case. This often involves face-to-face meetings with congressmen and their staffs. This is called direct lobbying [source: The Princeton Review]. The lobbyist must arrive for the meeting with well-researched and persuasive arguments for supporting his client's position on a particular issue. If the congressman is sympathetic to the client's position, then the lobbyist will cultivate a relationship with the senator's office, offering additional research, or in some cases helping to draft the legislation itself.

For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports a huge lobbying presence on Capitol Hill to influence legislation that affects each and every American business owner. The Chamber's executive vice president of government affairs says that he and his lobbyists track over 300 legislative issues of interest to the organization [source: Cook]. When a really big issue like health care reform comes up for a vote, the lobbyists swarm in from insurance companies, hospital associations, medical associations and patient's rights groups. According to the registration records, over 3,300 lobbyists are registered to consult on health policy issues alone.

Indirect lobbying is an equally important part of the job. A lobbyist with strong connections in D.C. might throw a cocktail party at her home and invite influential committee members to mingle with executives from the client organization. Fundraising is another powerful, if controversial way to indirectly influence the allegiance of an elected official. While lobbyists are not allowed to give money or gifts directly to members of Congress, a lobbyist can throw a $10,000 a plate fundraising dinner for an elected official with all donations given by friends and supporters of the client.

For lobbyists with smaller budgets, grassroots lobbying can be an effective tactic. Grassroots lobbying involves winning over public opinion to influence legislators. A lobbyist might accomplish this by writing editorials in newspapers, appearing on political talk shows, or organizing a letter-writing campaign to get the attention of local officials [source: The Princeton Review].

Now let's look at the laws that govern lobbying and what is being done to take the corrupting influence of money out of American politics.