Well, to be fair, most lobbying is, and should be legal. There are many honest lobbyists on capitol hill, and around the country. In fact, lobbying is necessary for democracy to thrive. For one, lobbying provides expert advice on pending or preconceived legislation. Not all legislators are experts on the policy they propose, and lobbyists can provide good analysis of the effects of certain bills or actions that may be unclear. Lobbyists also represent large interest groups who represent gigantic sections of the population. Some prominent examples include the National Rifle Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Sierra Club. While hired lobbyists give these groups immense power, they rely on huge amounts of public support to operate. Their massive public backing gives them a mandate for power. Additionally, lobbying extends far beyond capitol hill. Technically, a lobbyist is simply someone who attempts to influence public policy on behalf of another person or a group of people. Under that definition, lobbyists can range anywhere from a professional lobbyist earning millions a year from corporations, to a protester supporting a grassroots cause. Whatever the case, millions of US citizens attempt to shape public policy every year.
With all this being said, it is clear lobbying is not something that needs to be eradicated. As critics of restrictions and regulations on lobbying claim, that would be a massive encroachment on the first amendment. Citizens should absolutely be able to politically advocate for themselves and others. My argument lies in reform. As a country, we need to revamp a necessary, yet exploited system.
Creating legislation to monitor or regulate lobbyists and their activities seems like a simple solution. It is more complicated than that. Taking a look at historical attempts to reform K-street highlight the complexity of the issue.
The first lobbying reform efforts in United States history began in 1876 when provisions were passed to require lobbyists at the time to register with the house clerk. After this, little to no efforts were made on a federal level despite scandals involving lobbyists unabashadley bribing congressmen. Finally, in 1938, congress passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. While this act came to life as a response to Nazi propaganda in the United States, it required lobbyists working for foreign clients to register with the secretary of state. This made it so lawmakers on capitol hill know when someone is trying to push the interests of another country and take away any secrecy that may have been present.
After that came the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946. This bill required paid lobbyists to register, report expenditures, their salary, any commissions, what legislation they were attempting to influence and who they were representing. In other words, this bill required transparency for all lobbying activities for the first time in United States history. Great job congress. Problem solved, right?
Wrong. What followed is all too predictable. The lobbyists of the time found countless loopholes, allowing some to avoid disclosure entirely. By 1991, when the US General Accounting Office conducted a study on lobbying, they found that of the “13,500 individuals and organizations listed as key influence peddlers on Capitol Hill in a book entitled, Directory of Washington Representatives” 10,000 failed to register as lobbyists. Similar attempts to control lobbying activities have been subsequently circumvented or successfully lobbied against, and therefore knocked down in congress.
Rather than pass full disclosure bills and expect compliance from lobbyists, other legislators have been trickier. Many, rather, have focused on the source of the problem. Many claim it is the concept of the revolving door.