Lobbying For Dummies

By Haim Engelman

Many popular media sources have done a fantastic job portraying lobbyists as unethical legislative assassins used by big business and evil special interests. While it is often fun and easy to blame boogiemen and vaguely defined entities for the world’s problems, this image is far from the truth. Using Congress’ own definition, “Lobbying is the practice of trying to persuade legislators to propose, pass, or defeat legislation or to change existing laws.” Lobbyists represent non-for-profits, businesses, small municipalities, and citizen interest groups of all stripes. It is strikingly odd that the act of citizens coming together as a group to attempt to change legislation to what they view as a positive outcome has been so thoroughly demonized.

What do Boeing, The American Diabetes Association, Binghamton University, and your local microbrewery all have in common? The answer is that they are all involved in legislative efforts; they all lobby. Groups of citizens who share similar interests and ideals come together and ask the government for what they want. They publish reports, ad campaigns, and days of advocacy when mobs of well-intentioned folks “storm the Hill” to harass the hell out of their representatives’ staffs. This is lobbying, and it’s not that terrifying after all.

Another element of the influence of lobbies that people overlook is the reason that many companies are so well off to begin with. Do you find yourself at odds with a “Big-Something” lobby? Perhaps you should stop funding it! Yes, it may be time to stop complaining about how mega-chains are putting mom and pop shops out of business if you have never bought from a mom and pop shop in your life. Think large agri-business is poisoning the world’s population? Maybe it’s time you stop purchasing their products. It sure is easy to complain about boogiemen. It’s a bit more difficult to alter your lifestyle to combat the specific targets of your complaints. If you despise child labor, maybe the solution is to no longer purchase products made by children. You see, your dollars fund the legislative pushes that companies and large groups pursue. If you didn’t fund the venture you find yourself opposing, it would not be as strong.

The preceding paragraph only deals with business though. What about all of the advocacy groups that you disagree with, why are they so strong? They are strong because sometimes, people disagree with us. Just like we may be happy when a group we identify with wins a legislative victory, we also must understand that there will be times when those who disagree with us have their day.  This is part of being a member of a society where the freedoms to speak your mind, have your own opinions, and petition the government in a manner that reflects the people’s desires are granted.

It is also a mistake to say that one party or one group has a corner on the influence market. Lobbies and influence groups exist in all shapes and sizes, representing all political angles. There is absolutely nothing wrong with citizens asking for their interests to be represented in the laws of the land, to the contrary, this is the type of thing that occurs in an environment where citizens can voice their opinions to the government in an open, free manner.

You may find yourself disagreeing with the positions of many lobbies and interest groups. That is to be expected, you cannot agree with everyone. If that is what bothers you about lobbying then perhaps your greatest problem with the system is that you cannot handle those with viewpoints that differ from your own. It should be understood that the purpose served by lobbies and activists is a vital one. They act as a pipeline between groups of concerned citizens, corporations, and trade associations and the government. Our government is a large, bureaucratic maze; it is not surprising that it takes a professional to navigate its complex system of regulations, relationships, and inner workings.

The next time you think about how much you despise those who lobby for school vouchers, remember the ever-powerful teacher’s lobbies. When you are infuriated with fast food chains petitioning the government to maintain the minimum wage level, think back to the last time you enabled them to do so by giving them your business. Finally, when you next read some list formatted article about seventeen ways in which some organization is pushing a non-Buzzfeed approved agenda that will inevitably cause all cute things to die, take a moment to realize how gifted we are to live in a nation where citizens can petition the government and force the legislature to listen.

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