How does lobbying work?

I just read that the smoking lobby sent more than 100 lobbyists to Brussels to try to stop certain anti-smoking regulation.

So, what do these lobbyists actually do? I would expect that no money can change hands, due to anti-bribery legislation, so how do they actually convince EMP’s to change their opinion? Promise of cushy jobs, a new coffee maker, or is it “just” about giving them new information? Any ideas? Anybody on here a lobbyist?

Your expectation doesn’t appear to be right in every demarcation with anti-bribery laws, based on first-hand observations. Payment in forms other than cash is preferred: for example, some people have a business meeting at a very nice place accompanied by some very nice people, someone has to pick up the bill, and it isn’t the guest of honor. Houses receiving materials of higher quality than paid for is another method.

My impression is that the payoff is in campaign contributions. I cannot imagine that even a very cushy vacation will change many minds–assuming the legislators have any, that is. The NRA, for example, is known to donate major amounts of money to campaigns. And there is always the implicit threat that they will send the money to your opponent instead.

Whenever you hear of a politican going on a “fact-finding trip,” a lobbyist is involved. These trips are rarely to Detroit or Camden NJ.

If you want to take a (very) slightly less cynical view of it, consider that the legislators usually ARE actually making a good faith effort to understand the issues. At least in the US, the situation usually isn’t an overt (or even covert) swanky meals/expensive trips/campaign donations in exchange for votes deal, but rather a matter of buying access. Once they’ve got their foot in the door, the lobbyists work their charm and if all goes well the legislator has been influenced without necessarily even knowing he’s been influenced.

It’s further complicated by the fact that legislators don’t really have a whole lot of independent information gathering capabilities (at least in the US, though I imagine that’s true of other places to varying degrees). As a result, legislators are forced to a certain extent to rely on lobbyists for information and having more time to state one’s case usually means a much better chance of making a convincing argument.

IANALobbyist, but I’ve worked with them in several jobs. I am not so naïve to believe there’s no underhanded deals going on, but I’ve never been a party to it. Lobbyists basically come in with three weapons:

  1. Information, and lots of it. Like** GreasyJack** said, legislators often don’t have unlimited access to information, and in a real sense, they depend on the lobbyists to define and distill the issues for them. Which a good lobbyist will do with tons of studies, reports, clippings of news stories, etc.
  2. Influence, but never direct. No lobbyist will actually threaten, but they will remind the legislator that the widget industry has 10 factories in the state, or that 55% of constituents own a gun or whatever. A well-organized lobby works with other organizations to generate a phone call or email campaign from actual constituents.
  3. Concrete proposals. So one side wants to ban carbon emissions and the other side doesn’t, but eventually everyone compromises on a 10% reduction. Then the lobbyists get together and come up with details like manufacturing of solar panels is exempt because ultimately that makes clean energy, or lawn mower engines are exempt because it’s too expensive to make them run clean, but boat motors have to be 20% cleaner because they’re a luxury item, etc.

Another traditional payoff is cushy jobs–either for the politician himself after he leaves office or for relatives while he is still in office.

There are a wide range of techniques lobbyists can use, of varying ethics and legality. On the one hand, you have things like “Ten million people read our newsletter, and if we tell them that you’re bad on <our key issue>, that’ll turn those people against you”, which is perfectly fine. Then there are things like “If you vote this way on this issue, then we’ll channel money into such-and-such PAC, that you can use for legitimate campaign expenses like flying out to give a speech in Hawaii”, which (if the PAC has all its paperwork in order) is probably legal, but is more debatable ethically. And occasionally, you’ll get “If you vote the way we want, then we’ll arrange for this dealer to sell you that Porsche you wanted for $1”, or “…then we’ll hook you up with some choice drugs”, or “…then we’ll supply you with hookers”, which is both unethical and illegal and causes scandals when it’s caught. And, of course, all sorts of gradations in between.

After the recent budget crisis, I so so want to send my representatives on a permanent “fact-finding” trip to Diomede Island, Alaska.