Why We Need More Lobbyists

There is nothing more American than a good, old-fashioned lobbyist.

March 22, 2017




 





How many times have you clicked a box to add your name to one of those “Make the world a better place. Sign our petition now” email links? Congratulations. You are a lobbyist. Have you ever accepted one whose purpose was to eliminate lobbyists?  You are confused.

It’s become fashionable to gripe about lobbying and lobbyists as evil, corrupt, and “un-American”. Trolls and pundits want to storm the castle with torches and pitchforks, demanding their obliteration. Actually, there is nothing more American than a good, old-fashioned lobbyist. 

Legal Basis for Lobbying
The American founders wanted lobbyists. They expected them.
Our own Declaration of Independence says:
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, …

Lobbying was so important to them that they enshrined it in the First Amendment in our Bill of Rights -

Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the . . . right of the people . . . to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The Constitution requires that House of Representatives members face election every two years because that makes them more accountable to the people. The president and all members of Congress maintain websites with contact information and email forms to give them your comments and opinions. This stuff doesn’t exist purely for decoration.

History of Lobbying
There have been lobbyists as long as there have been legislators. The term arose in the United States in the 1830s when representatives of large companies and organizations gathered in the lobby of the US Capitol Building to try to persuade legislators to vote for or against pending legislation. The business has come a long way. Now there are huge firms of professional lobbyists working for and against every issue under the sun.

Of course, the giant megabucks corporations and organizations employ professional lobbyists – oil companies, Wall Street bankers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association. But plenty of organizations working for the public interest do, too – the American Civil Liberties Union, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the AFL-CIO.

The federal Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 contains very strict rules about professional lobbying. All state legislatures also have similar rules.

I’ve been lobbying for more than 30 years, at all levels of government. I’ve never given more than a stack of papers and a handshake to any legislator. And not one has ever asked for more.

Lobbyists are no different from members of any other profession. Some are more competent than others. Some are more ethical than others. Some are terrific. Some are swine. Of course we need limits on the gifts that lobbyists can give to legislators. We need a strict definition of and strong punishments for bribery. But we do not need fewer lobbyists. We need more of them.

Why You Should Lobby
Members of Congress, the corporate media and those who control our schools don't want you to know that Lobbying is the ONLY thing that can restore our democracy. 
They don’t want you to know that YOU have the power to influence Congress.

"Giving buckets of money to legislators" is not lobbying.  Lobbying is the effort to convince local, state, and federal officials to support legislation and policies reflecting your positions.  Everyone can do it.  And it doesn’t cost a dime.

Legislators listen to corporate lobbyists because they are the only ones doing the talking.
If you want your representatives to listen to you, then start talking to them.
If the 99% would do more lobbying, the 1% would have less power.

Lobbying Works
Without lobbyists, we wouldn’t have

  • Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, drunk driving laws
  • social services, child labor laws, environmental protection              
  • Social Security, Medicare, Consumer protection laws
  • safe and healthy food, drugs, air, and water                                  
  • services for military families and veterans                                      
  • workplace wage, health, and safety laws


But we would have

  • Slavery
  • Legal sweatshops
  • Jim Crow Laws
  • Many more poor, hungry, homeless, sick, injured, and dead people


Lobbying is patriotic.

How to be a Lobbyist
Thousands of bills are introduced in Congress every year. Only a few dozen become laws. Nothing moves unless someone pushes it. While you probably won’t be paid for it, you can be a lobbyist, too.

What do you care about?  What makes you angry?  What do you want your government to fix?

  • Climate change, foreign wars, environmental issues
  • energy policy, infrastructure, banking regulations
  • college loan interest rates, campaign finance reform, voting rights
  • civil rights, workplace health and safety, middle class tax reform
  • police violence, women’s reproductive freedom
  • punishing the poor, NSA Surveillance, state and local issues


 There are two simple steps:
1.  You know what’s important to you. Be familiar with those issues. You don’t have to be an expert. Just follow the news.  Get more information from organizations working on your topic.  Find them online.  And then participate with one or more organizations.

2.  Contact your legislators. Let them know how you feel, and how you want them to vote.
     Remember that you can lobby your state and local officials, too.

You have every right to contact your legislators as often as you like, about any topic you choose, and it does make a difference. For even more clout, gather some friends or organization members and visit your legislators in their district offices. Yes, you can, and it’s easier than you think. 

Since Congress does most of its work through committees, you should know which committees oversee your issues. Committees are very powerful in Congress. The House and Senate websites contain lists of committees and their members.

So if you think our government is on the wrong track, don’t blame the government, or the people who do their part to make it work. Stop watching stupid junk on TV and START LOBBYING.

Don’t Spectate.  Participate.


For More Information
Learn how to lobby your legislators


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Patricia A. O'Malley

Social Policy & Programs Consulting

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