Lobbying = Corruption? What Do You Think?

It has always seemed to me that lobbying was wrong in principle, because, given the “representative” form of our governments (federal, state and local), I think legislators should camapaign on what they really think, be elected if the majority agree with them, and then do what they campaigned on. Is that too simplistic? Do lobbyists just “educate” legislators, who, after all, can’t be expected to know everything? Or do they weigh against the interest of the people generally because they represent admittedly “special interest” groups?

I think, generally speaking, lobbying equals corruption. But I’m interested to know what you think.

Am I wrong? Why?

Am I right? Why?

I used to work for a small public radio lobbying organization. We were far to small to make any campaign contributions, and were were a 501c3 non-profit, precluded from making campaign contribution to retain tax exempt status.

Lobbying is simply appearing before the appropriate legislators and making a case for your own perspective. It is certainly possible to lobby without resorting to briefcases full of cash.

At one point in my career I had a peripheral role in creating wrokers compensation legislation in California. (My job was to evaluate cost of each proposal.) Most proposals were designed by a interest group – insurance industry, laborunions, and employers groups. The funal bills generally comtained elements from all 3 sides. They were the ones with the interest and the expertise to create a law. They lobbied to get their laws passed.

However, there was also money changing hands. Evry so oftet there was a scandal involving one of the parties giving illegal domations.

We certainly can’t do a away with lobbying. My feeling is that corruption will always be present, so we will always have to work hard to try to keep it in check.

Lobbying has its problems, but as others have noted it can play a helpful role as well.

Our lobbyist specializes in nonprofits. She represents a bunch of women’s organizations in the state (which is how I know her) and other groups as well. She has been am effective means for us to inform legislators of issues that matter a lot to us, and why we think a certain bill is important. She’s got some savvy and can do this more effectively and consistently than we could individually. And we’re not asking for things that benefit us financially. We suppport legislation that helps prosecute domestic violence perpetrators, for example.

Concise and well put.

As yojimboguy and Cranky have substantiated, lobbying isn’t inherently evil. It’s perfectly reasonable for citizens to band together in groups, which in turn send their representatives down to argue for/against legislation to the people’s elected representatives.

Where the system fouls up is when the lobbyists who gain access to legislators, as a group, badly reflect the interests of the citizenry.

This is especially true when an unhealthy proportion of such lobbyists represent nonhuman entities.

If that’s you as an individual visiting your state legislator or US Congressperson because a face to face conversation is more emphatic than a letter, then I agree. But if you went to the Congressional office to make your case as an individual constituent, would you get past all those lobbyists in the waiting room?

I guess that’s really my point. You admit that at least some lobbying is corrupt. How do you keep something like that in check when groups who can raise lots of cash will always be able to apply the most pressure? And because of the cash, aren’t they the ones who are most likely to get in to see the lagislator in the first place?

Please tell me that our legislators in whatever state are already against domestic viloence. Are you suggesting that a legislator wouldn’t know about the isssue, or suspect it was important to his/her constituents unless s/he got a poke in the ribs from a “special interest” group? I’d like to think domestic violence would be of general, not special interest.

“Where the system fouls up is when the lobbyists who gain access to legislators, as a group, badly reflect the interests of the citizenry.”

:confused: So not only does the legislature have to be a balanced representative section of society (which I agree with) but anyone trying to influence policy has to be a balanced representative section too? But then why would they need to lobby in the first place?

Who or what decides what “the interests of the citizenry” is? Sheer majority? Our Constitution rejects the idea that the majority will is absolute, for good reason. The debtors outnumber the creditors, and vote themselves out of debt (see post-Revolution Massachusetts). The Christians outnumber the non-Christians, and vote Christianity the official religion, banning all others. Not that any of this happens, of course, but just examples of how a pure adherence to “vox populi, vox dei” doesn’t work.

In a diverse nation, where any one person may be with the majority on some issues and the minority on others (I doubt anyone holds the majority position on everything), policy results from the interplay of various interests. Employers and labor, creditors and debtors, etcetera, each lobby for legislation to be shaped the way they want it. In most cases, no faction in any of these debates has the angels entirely on their side; one side isn’t the defenders of goodness and light while the other side are the “special interest”; BOTH are each looking out for their own respective interest. The best policy for society would be a mix or balance of the positions of the various factions, but such a mix cannot result when one or more of the factions is kept from the table on the grounds that they are a “special interest” and therefore “badly reflect the interests of the citizenry”.

To give an example, think of a proposed labor relations bill. If employers got all they wanted, all that was in their best interest, every worker would be at their desk 12 hours a day six days a week for $5/hour. If labor got all that it wanted, all that was in its best interests, they would work 6 hours a day, four days a week, at $25/hour. What is best for society as a whole is clearly somewhere inbetween. But if we’re exclusing “special interests” that “badly reflect the interests of the citizenry” from the debating table, what results? Should the employers be excluded as a “special interest” because they are in the minority?

Like a lot of things, lobbying seems to be a bit bitter in theory than in practice.

I like the fact that lobbying can be a way to educate representatives. Reps are required to decide funding, etc. on a lot of issues, and sometimes (probably often) they don’t have bags of knowledge about that subject. They may have read a small article, or caught some info bullets somewhere, and they have to decide on that limited info.

Lobbying can help Reps learn. They can be shown how a particular issue might have far-reaching effects which are neither obvious nor intuitive.

Of course, like in most education, getting one side of a story can be as bad (or worse) than not getting any of it. That’s where a problem creeps in - usually one side of a story is told to the Rep by a rich and powerful special interest lobbyist and this is what dictates a vote. Probably not good.

So what do you do? You can require equal funding for an issue - say that a SIG (special interest group) wants to present a Rep or Reps with the fruits of a $10million research study; do you require that they provide a similar study for the other side? or that they can’t present it unless someone else has a comparable study from the other point of view? or that similar funds have to be provided for such a study? Not an easy answer. Everyone should have a right to present their argument to their Rep without necessarily having to provide “equal air time” for views that don’t agree with them.

I kinda think the burden is on the Reps - when you are educated by a SIG on an issue you should make an effort to find out about contrarian points-of-view so that you can make a better decision. Unfortunately it is hard to make this a requirement for a Reps job.

OK, gotta go.

Sure, as a basic issue most people agree on it. But if you’re trying to pass additional funding for programs, or adding legislative oversight to things, or expanding the definition of domestic violence to include non-marital relationships, or beefing up PPOs, or trying to change the laws that restrict a woman’s ability to move her kids away from an abuser… the value of those things are not always obvious to legislators. Similarly, some programs that sound great on paper can have unintended consiequences. I don’t expect our state legislators to be able to stay on top of those things as well as an organization who is dealing with this problem on the ground, so to speak. AND in a year when the legislature is scrambling to deal with huge budget issues, sometimes it takes advocacy to get them to pay attention to one issue among the many that compete for attention.

To take another issue, there is currently a bill in committee on redefining lead from paint in the city of Detroit as a special kind of hazard (that would immediately include it in a lot of other legislation that has been passed previously). It sounds good on paper to children’s advocates, but there are a few problems. We support the bill in principle and have told the committee we hope they forward it so it can be discussed (because we will have an oportunity to share out concerns) but we don’t support the bill as is.

Lord, no one question me any more because I missed the last meeting and don’t know any more about that bill.

How do you distinguish “bad” lobbying from the legitimate petitioning of the legislature for redress of a gievance?

No, in my case it’s individuals and organizations collectively HIRING a lobbyist to represent their views. And there is nothing wrong with this either. We dealt with communications law and public funding of the arts and media, and it was not always the government we lobbied.

Some lobbying TACTICS are corrupt. Some lobbyists are corrupt. Just as in any other field.

You insist on linking lobbying with campaing contributions, or other forms of payoffs. MOST (the vast majority) of lobbying does NOT happen like this.

Think about it this way. In many cases, lobbyists serve as self-appointed proof-readers of legislation. We read relevant proposed legislation, and identify portions that are likely to affect our membership, for good or bad. We then foster discussion among our members of how to respond. That response may be to testify to Congressional committees about problems we have with the language. Or it may be to identify and publicize new oppotunities.

You are mis-identifying the problem. It is NOT lobbying. It IS the body of law comprising campaign finance and political contributions.

If you read back over my OP and subsequent post, you’ll see that I haven’t insisted on anything. I stated in the OP what had been my belief about lobbying, and asked why others might agree or disagree. Actually, the responses have been excellent – thoughtful and measured. I appreciate them, and have learned from them, including yours. I’m glad I didn’t start this in the Pit. Responses there are too often indignant and defensive, and much more heat than light is generated.

Mind you, I love the pit. It’s fun to get down and dirty sometimes, especially on topics of less real moment. But I’ve learned in my brief time on the boards that too great an emotional investment in a belief merely prevents me from learning anything. No profit in that. Even at my age it’s possible to learn. Isn’t that what the boards are for? :slight_smile:

Just not as effectively. And, if the legislators’ schedules are too tight to talk with everyone, maybe not at all.

Lobbying itself isn’t a corrupt act as long as it’s part of honest, disinterested debate; agreed. The massiveness of politicians’ need for cash corrupts the process, though, since it tends to filter out viewpoints from persons without the cash to get appointments with the persons with power.

I’m not very qualified to reply because I have not studied this issue. But my impression is that the answer to a lot of questions about why the U.S. has awful health care, why people smoked for years when it was known that tobacco was harmful, etc., have/had to to do with lobbyists. I qualify this with “I could be wrong.” But this is my impression.

As a Massachusetts resident (a state with a full-time legislature and very corrupt). I can share some observations: The banks and insurane companies spend huge amounts of money to educate (buy)the llegislature. You as a private citizen will never be heard, because your local rep. doesn’t work for you-he works for the people that pay him hard cash. We have extremely high auto insurance rates in MA-partly because over 70% of the legislators either work for the insurance companies or represent them in some way. You don’t believe me? I while back, I lost my job, and I needed to buy some inexpensive “bridge” health insurance-guess what-those policies are NOT AVAILABLE in MA-because BLUE CROSS doesn’t want competition. In fact, my rep is a recipent of BC’s largesse. Another example-a while back, a bill was filed to reform the child support laws in MA-a public hearing was held )at 10:00 Monday morning-so working people could not attent. The Mass Bar Assoc. killed it They have a vested interest in this). So yes, allowing legislators to be bought is a bad idea!