Government makes decisions every day that impact your business. New rules. New programs. Huge budgets. These decisions create challenges as well as opportunities. The right lobbyist can make the difference between success and failure for you and your business.
Historically the job of a lobbyist was to keep government from doing anything that would hurt a corporation. In fact, lobbyists have been described as “the people you hire to protect you from the people you elect.”
Today, government has a more significant impact on business and the lobbyist role has evolved. Companies hire lobbyist for many reasons:
- To protect the company from bad legislation;
- To secure government funding; and,
- To create a competitive advantage.
Relationships however, remain the center of any government relations strategy. But many companies are hesitant to get involved.
Although lobbying is an ancient art‑‑as old as government itself‑‑it is still frequently viewed with suspicion. It is, in fact, a legitimate activity protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law....abridging the freedom of speech....or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
The term "lobbyist" came into usage early in the 19th century, although stories of its origin vary. One account describes "lobby‑agents" as the petitioners in the lobby of the New York State Capitol waiting to address legislators. Another version of the story describes the lobby of the Willard Hotel as the meeting site for both legislators and favor‑seekers during the early 1800s. Either way, by 1835 the term had been shortened to "lobbyist" and was in wide usage in the U.S. Capitol, though frequently pejoratively.
The caricature is as familiar as the name: portly, cigar‑smoking men who wine and dine lawmakers while slipping money into their pockets.
Because the lobbying profession is so little understood, it is often viewed as a sinister function, yet every "mom and apple pie" interest in the United States uses lobbyists.
Simply put, lobbying is advocacy of a point of view, either by groups or individuals. A special interest is nothing more than an identified group expressing a point of view‑‑be it colleges and universities, churches, charities, public interest or environmental groups, senior citizens organizations, even state, local or foreign governments. While most people think of lobbyists only as paid professionals, there are also many independent, volunteer lobbyists‑‑all of whom are protected by the same First Amendment.
Lobbying involves much more than persuading legislators. Its principal elements include researching and analyzing legislation or regulatory proposals; monitoring and reporting on developments; attending congressional or regulatory hearings; working with coalitions interested in the same issues; and then educating not only government officials but also employees.
Lobbying is a legitimate and necessary part of our democratic political process. Government decisions affect both people and organizations, and information must be provided in order to produce informed decisions. Public officials cannot make fair and informed decisions without considering information from a broad range of interested parties.
All sides of an issue must be explored in order to produce equitable government policies. And it is our job to make sure our government leaders have all the facts and are listening.