Lobbying is a practice that is often misinterpreted or criticized as bribery, but it is not. In the United States of America, it is performed by either individuals or organizations whereby public campaigns (which are legally registered with the government) are undertaken to pressure governments into specific public policy actions. The legality of lobbying comes from the Constitution.
Lobbyists may be among a legislator’s constituencies, meaning a voter or bloc of voters within their electoral districts, or not; they may engage in lobbying as a business. Professional lobbyists are people whose business is trying to influence legislation, regulation, or other government decisions, actions, or policies on behalf of a group or individual who hires them.
It is a paid activity in which special interests hire well-connected professional advocates, often lawyers, to argue for specific legislation in decision-making bodies such as the United States Congress. It is a highly controversial phenomenon, often seen in a negative light by journalists and the American public, with some critics describing it as a legal form of bribery or extortion.
While lobbying is subject to extensive and often complex rules which, if not followed, can lead to penalties including jail, the activity of lobbying has been interpreted by court rulings as constitutionally protected free speech and a way to petition the government for the redress of grievances, two of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Since the 1970s, lobbying activity has grown immensely in the United States in terms of the numbers of lobbyists and the size of lobbying budgets, and has become the focus of much criticism of American governance.
There were many cases of lobbyists buying the votes of lawmakers. They were seen by the public as dishonest people who influenced legislation illegally for their own private gain.
In later years, Congress and state legislatures passed laws to restrict dishonest lobbying activities. Lobbyists must register with the government and they must follow many complex regulations.
Legislators and the public began to recognize the value of the job done by honest lobbyists. There are many honest lobbyists who try to influence legislation. However, lobbyists and lobby groups have an active part in making laws. Lobbyists help inform Congress and the public about problems and issues.
Also, lobbyists provide technical information about legislative proposals. And lobbyists let lawmakers know whom a bill would help and whom it would hurt.
Currently, the number of special interest groups: industries, labor unions, professional organizations, citizens groups and representatives of foreign interests. These special interest groups all lobby Congress.
The Legality of Lobbying
By rule of law, the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 provides for the legality of political lobbying. Concerning both the legislative and executive branches of the government, this act defines what constitutes a lobbying and the required government registration, what lobbyist actions consist of, and how lobbyists must comply in order to avoid penalties. The Lobbying Disclosure Act was enacted to ensure that lobbying is publicly registered. While acknowledging the importance of lobbying, the act allows the public to evaluate any undue influences that may be affecting decision making in the government.
Why Lobbying is Important
Lobbying is an important lever for a productive government. Without it, governments would struggle to sort out the many, many competing interests of its citizens. Fortunately lobbying provides access to government legislators, acts as an educational tool, and allows individual interests to gain power in numbers. This is more so in a participatory democracy. In addition to the legal framework that protects lobbying, lobbying is further supported as an inherent part of a participatory democracy. For our governments to succeed and protect the rights of its citizens the citizens must participate; lobbying is a way for our citizens to do that. Lobbyists represent the interests of citizens who do not have the opportunity or access to represent them personally to the government. Through lobbying, their interests are still heard. It is a widely held notion that governments do not work without lobbying. Like a renowned economist, Thomas Sowell puts it: “Reform through democratic legislation requires either ‘public consensus or a powerful minority lobby.’”
Revenue Generation and Creation of Employment
Lobbyists serve an important purpose in aggregating the interests of many individual constituents. Any individual can have a cause, but with over 10,000 bills introduced to the U.S. Congress over every two-year session for an example, it is close to impossible for one voice to be heard, influence any meaningful decision. Lobbyists can represent many voices, and in addition their size and singular focus allows for research and fact checking needed to bolster arguments. But that’s not all. Several billions of dollars is also generated through lobbying as well as thousands of jobs for the unemployed.
For perspective on the tremendous size of lobby groups, the total dollars spent in 2014 on lobbying interests totaled over $3.2billion dollars and the total number of lobbyists employed reached almost 12,000. The money spent on lobbying in 2014 is not an anomaly. 2014 matched 2013 in terms of total spend, and lobbyists in 2015 have already registered $.8 billion in lobbying spend.
Lobbying as an Educational Function
Of over 10,000 bills presented to the United States Congress over a two year period, and understanding that this is simply one example of a government being tasked with a tremendous amount of legislative material, it is very easy to appreciate that no one person in government can be an expert in everything.
Lobbying helps to cover any gaps in knowledge. With each issue brought to legislative attention, lobbyists present research and facts about their issue, and then try and persuade government into action. Lobbyists additionally will bring the best, most thorough knowledge and expertise to an issue, as the issue they lobby for is their sole interest and reason for employment. Policy decisions made with the best possible information are a benefit to both lobbying groups and a legislature’s constituents on the whole.
The Nigerian Experience
In Nigeria, Lobbying is a new concept. Over the years it has been viewed with cynicism. However, the Upper legislative arm of the nation’s legislature has commenced attempts to legalize the practice.
Last October, Nigerian Senate passed for second reading, a Bill seeking for law to register and regulate lobbying as a profession.
The “Bill for an Act for the Regulation and Registration of Lobbyists in Nigeria and for other matters connected therewith, 2016’’ is sponsored by Dino Melaye, (APC, Kogi West).
While presenting his lead debate, Mr. Melaye argued that the National Assembly needed to recognize and approve professional lobbyists in the legislature.
He added that the Bill would also make provision for intending lobbyist to be duly registered under the Company and Allied and Matters Act.
Mr. Melaye said that the lobbyist after being registered with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) would also have to register with the Ministry of Justice to practice as lobbyist in the Senate or House of Representatives.
He defined lobbying as an activity in which special interests hire well-connected professional advocates, often lawyers, to argue for specific legislation in parliament.
He said that although the bill looked controversial and perceived as negative, lobbying took place at every level of government.
“The bill will create stricter registration requirement for lobbyists and also require lobbyists to disclose how much they make and spend on lobbying.
“It will ban lobbyist from paying for gifts and food as a means of inducement and it would give oversight agencies more powers to investigate violation of ethics laws,” he said.
The lawmaker added that the Bill will also offer the legislator opportunity to be more informed about a bill before it comes for reading.
According to him, the lobbyists will be readily available to inform the legislators of the idea behind the Bill being pushed.
The Bill has received the support of many federal legislators and Nigerians from different walks of life because of its importance to the legislative process.
The Bottom Line
It must be understood that lobbying is an integral part of a modern participatory government, and is legally protected. In the U.S., the right to lobby is protected by both the 1st Amendment and the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, and additionally by the inherent need for participation in a democratic environment.
The legal framework in support of lobbying notwithstanding, lobbying should continue to play a role because of its many benefits. With lobbying, personal interests are aggregated into lobby groups; strengthening their voice, constant pressure is applied to government legislatures whose attention can often be pulled in various directions, and finally with lobbying, legislatures are provided with expert knowledge of a subject matter they may not no