A lobbyist is a person whose job is to try to influence public officials, usually for or against a specific cause. Lobbyists typically are employed by interest groups that want public policies to favor them and their causes. The word "lobbyist" comes from the type of room where the act of lobbying often takes place — such as the lobby of a government building, where legislators might gather before entering the chamber to discuss proposals or to vote. Lobbyists typically use verbal persuasion to try to influence public officials, but some might resort to more unethical or even illegal practices, such as bribery. For this reason, lobbying typically is heavily regulated.
Methods of Influence
There are several ways that a lobbyist might try to directly influence a public official. He or she might hold a formal meeting with one or more officials in which information is shared that supports the position of the lobbyist or interest group. In addition, a lobbyist might try to befriend public officials in various ways, such as by taking them out to dinner, throwing parties or providing entertainment.
Lobbyists can indirectly influence public officials as well. One way of doing this is to get citizens to put pressure on the officials. For example, a lobbyist might organize a letter-writing campaign, organize a protest or encourage citizens to call their government representatives in support of or in opposition to a particular proposal. Lobbyists might purchase advertisements that are designed to sway the public opinion or to put pressure on officials. They also might use the media to gain attention for their causes.
Many types of organizations use lobbyists. Businesses, industries and groups in certain segments of the economy use lobbyists to encourage legislation that will benefit them financially. Organizations that represent certain moral or political issues use lobbyists to support their causes. Groups of all types that have any concerns or issues that might be affected by public policies can use lobbyists to influence the officials who make those policies.
Sometimes, lobbyists and interest groups will work together to support or to oppose certain issues. These cooperative efforts might be between groups that have similar or related interests, such as one that supports environmental causes and one that supports animal rights. At other times, however, seemingly unrelated groups or even groups that are normally opposing might find common ground regarding a specific piece of legislation that is under consideration and will combine their efforts to influence public officials.
In most jurisdictions, it is illegal for public officials to accept money or certain favors in exchange for taking certain actions in their jobs, such as voting for or against a piece of legislation. Small gifts, entertainment, food or other items of a certain monetary value or less might be legal, however, and are quite common. Occasionally, an unscrupulous lobbyist might offer bribes or exceed the allowable limits for these benefits that are provided to public officials. Although these types of lobbyists are believed to be a very small percentage of all lobbyists, they have caused this profession to have a rather negative connotation to many people.
To try to prevent unethical or illegal behavior by lobbyists, these individuals and the interest groups that they represent are heavily regulated in many jurisdictions. They might have to register with the government to engage in lobbying on a regular basis. Any benefits provided to public officials also might need to be reported, although there often is a minimum monetary value that is required before reporting the benefit is necessary.