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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lobbying includes all attempts to influence legislators and officials, whether by other legislators, constituents or organized groups.[1][2] Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying.[3][4][5]



The supposed origins of the term 'lobbyist' vary. The BBC holds that lobbying comes from the gathering of Members of Parliament and peers in the hallways (or lobbies) of Houses of Parliament before and after parliamentary debates.[2] The modern British Parliament was established by the Acts of Union in 1707. One story states that the term originated at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, where it was used by Ulysses S. Grant to describe the political wheelers and dealers frequenting the hotel's lobby in order to access Grant who was often found there, enjoying a cigar and brandy.[6]

In her book Lobbying and Advocacy: Winning Strategies, Resources, Recommendations, Ethics and Ongoing Compliance for Lobbyists and Washington Advocates [7], Deanna Gelak, a former president of the American League of Lobbyists, quotes an appearance of the term 'lobbying' in print as early as 1820:

Other letters from Washington affirm, that members of the Senate, when the compromise question was to be taken in the House, were not only 'lobbying about the Representatives' Chamber,' but were active in endeavoring to intimidate certain weak representatives by insulting threats to dissolve the Union.

— April 1, 1820, New Hampshire Sentinel

Lobbying by country

United States

Many jurisdictions, in response to concerns of corruption, require the formal registration of lobbyists who come in contact with government representatives. Since 1995, under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (2 U.S.C. § 16011612), most persons who are paid to make direct 'lobbying contacts' with members of Congress and officials of the federal executive branch are required to register and file reports twice a year.

However, there are ongoing conflicts between organizations that wish to impose greater restrictions on lobbying activities, and groups that argue that such restrictions infringe on the right to petition government officials, which is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

For example, in January 2004, the U.S. Senate considered S. 1, an omnibus 'ethics reform' bill. This bill contained a provision (Section 220) to establish federal regulation, for the first time, of certain efforts to encourage 'grassroots lobbying.' The bill said that ''grassroots lobbying' means the voluntary efforts of members of the general public to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials or to encourage other members of the general public to do the same.' This provision was opposed by a broad array of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Right to Life Committee, and the National Rifle Association, who argued that attempts by constituents to influence their representatives are at the heart of representational democracy, and that neither such contacts nor efforts to motivate such contacts should be considered 'lobbying.' On January 18, 2007, the U.S. Senate voted 55-43 to strike Section 220 from the bill. However, other proposed regulations on 'grassroots lobbying' remain under consideration in the 110th Congress.

Another controversial bill, the 'Executive Branch Reform Act, H.R. 985, would require over 8,000 Executive Branch officials to report into a public database nearly any 'significant contact' from any 'private party.' Although promoted as a regulation on 'lobbyists,' the bill defines 'private party' as 'any person or entity' except 'Federal, State, or local government official or a person representing such an official.' Thus, under the proposal, anyone who contacts a covered government official is in effect deemed to be a lobbyist, unless the communicator is another government official or government staff person. The bill defines 'significant contact' to be any 'oral or written communication (including electronic communication) . . . in which the private party seeks to influence official action by any officer or employee of the executive branch of the United States.' The bill is supported by some organizations as an expansion of 'government in the sunshine,' but other groups oppose it as an infringing on the right to petition by making it impossible for citizens to communicate their views on controversial issues without having their names and viewpoints entered into a government database.[8] The U.S. Department of Justice has raised constitutional and other objections to the bill.[9]

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected congressional efforts to regulate grassroots communications as a form of 'lobbying,' on constitutional grounds. In 1953, in a suit involving a congressional resolution authorizing a committee to investigate 'all lobbying activities intended to influence, encourage, promote, or retard legislation,' the Supreme Court narrowly construed 'lobbying activities' to mean only 'direct' lobbying (which the Court described as 'representations made directly to the Congress, its members, or its committees'), and rejected a broader interpretation of 'lobbying' out of First Amendment concerns. [United States v. Rumely, 345 U.S. 41 (1953).] The Supreme Court thereby affirmed the earlier decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which said:

In support of the power of Congress it is argued that lobbying is within the regulatory power of Congress, that influence upon public opinion is indirect lobbying, since therefore attempts to influence public opinion are subject to regulation by the Congress. Lobbying, properly defined, is subject to control by Congress, . . . But the term cannot be expanded by mere definition so as to include forbidden subjects. Neither semantics nor syllogisms can break down the barrier which protects the freedom of people to attempt to influence other people by books and other public writings. . . . It is said that lobbying itself is an evil and a danger. We agree that lobbying by personal contact may be an evil and a potential danger to the best in legislative processes. It is said that indirect lobbying by the pressure of public opinion on the Congress is an evil and a danger. That is not an evil; it is a good, the healthy essence of the democratic process. . . .

— [Rumely v. United States, 197 F.2d 166, 173-174, 177 (D.C. Cir. 1952).]


While determining lobbyists' precise influence over legislative decision-making in the United States can never be fully determined, non-profit organizations such as the Center for Responsive Politics, or Opensecrets, attempt to track money in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy.[10]


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster Dictionary.Com entry on lobbying
  2. ^ a b BBC Definition of Lobbying.
  3. ^ Non-Profit Action description of 'Lobbying Versus Advocacy: Legal Definitions'.
  4. ^ U.S. Senate definition of Lobbying.
  5. ^ Andrew Bounds and Marine Formentini in Brussels, EU Lobbyists Face Tougher Regulation, Financial Times, August 16, 2007.
  6. ^ [1] - NPR discussion of Ulysses Grant and origins of the term lobbyist.
  7. ^ Deanna Gelak, Lobbying and Advocacy: Winning Strategies, Resources, Recommendations, Ethics and Ongoing Compliance for Lobbyists and Washington Advocates, TheCapitol.Net, 2008,
  8. ^ Memorandum: 'Congressman Waxman advances grave new threat to citizens' 'right to petition' government officials,' by Douglas Johnson and Susan Muskett, J.D., National Right to Life Committee, February 20, 2007.
  9. ^ Letter from Richard D. Hertling, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legislative Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice, to the Honorable Henry A. Waxman, Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, March 8, 2007.
  10. ^ About the Center for Responsive Politics