Lobbying in the United States targets the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives, and state legislatures. Lobbyists may also represent their clients' or organizations' interests in dealings with federal, state, or local executive branch agencies or the courts. Lobby groups and their members sometimes also write legislation and whip bills. As of 2007 there are over 17,000 federal lobbyists based in Washington, DC.
See also: Economy of United States
Lobbyists use time spent with legislators to explain the goals of the organizations which they represent and the obstacles elected officials face when dealing with issues, to clients. In 2007 there were over 17,000 federal lobbyists based in Washington, DC. While many of these lobbyists are employed by lobbying and law firms and retain outside clients, others are employed by trade associations, companies, and state and local governments.
Lobbying activities are also performed at the state level, and lobbyists try to influence legislation in the state legislatures in each of the 50 states. At the local municipal level, some lobbying activities occur with city council members and county commissioners, especially in the larger cities and more populous counties.
Many local municipalities are requiring legislative agents register as lobbyists to represent the interests of clients to local city council members such as in the swing state of Ohio cities such as Columbus and Cincinnati. Local lobbyists can be asked to represent a variety of organizations including charitable non-profits such as 501(c)(3) tax-exempt corporations. Many lobbyists represent non-profits pro-bono for issues in which they are personally interested. Pro bono publico clients offer activities to meet and socialize with local legislators on neutral territory like fundraisers and awards ceremonies.
A number of reforms since 1995 have increased the level of regulation and required disclosure.
The ability of individuals, groups, and corporations to lobby the government is protected by the right to petition in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Intense lobbying began between 1869 and 1877, during the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant.The most influential lobbies wanted railroad subsidies and a tariff on wool. At the same time in the Reconstruction South, lobbying was a high intensity activity near the state legislatures, especially regarding railroad subsidies. The term itself came from Britain to describe approaches made to Members of Parliament in the lobbies of the House of Commons.
In the Progressive Era from the 1880s to the 1920s reformers frequently attacked lobbyists as corrupting politics.
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. The Supreme Court thereby affirmed the earlier decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Prior to the 1980s lawmakers rarely became lobbyists as the profession was generally considered 'tainted' and 'unworthy' for once-elected officials such as themselves; in addition lobbying firms and trade groups were leery of hiring former members of Congress because they were reputed to be 'lazy as lobbyists and unwilling to ask former colleagues for favors'. New higher salaries, increasing demand and a greater turnover in Congress and a change in the control of the House all contributed to a change in attitude about the appropriateness of former elected officials becoming lobbyists from that time onwards. The route between these roles became known as the revolving door.
In 1995, the 104th Congress sought to reform Lobbying by passing the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) which defines and requires lobbyists who are compensated for their actions to register with the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate semiannual reports of activities. The legislation was later amended by the Lobbying Disclosure Technical Amendments Act of 1998. These two pieces of legislation require a report containing an accounting of major expenditures as well as legislation that was influenced. Wording of this legislation can be found in 2 U.S.C. ch.26. The increasing number of former lawmakers becoming lobbyists has led Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) to propose paring back the many Capitol Hill privileges enjoyed by former senators and representatives. His plan would deprive lawmakers-turned-lobbyists of privileges such as unfettered access to otherwise "members only" areas such as the House and Senate floors and the House gym.
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.
In July 2005, Public Citizen published a report entitled "The Journey from Congress to K Street": the report analyzed hundreds of lobbyist registration documents filed in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act and the Foreign Agents Registration Act among other sources. It found that since 1998, 43 percent of the 198 members of Congress who left government to join private life have registered to lobby. The Washington Post described these results as reflecting the "sea change that has occurred in lawmakers' attitudes toward lobbying in recent years." The report included a case study of one particularly successful lobbyist, Bob Livingston, who stepped down as Speaker-elect and resigned his seat in 1999. In the six years since his resignation, his lobbying group grew into the 12th largest non-law lobbying firm, earning nearly $40 million by the end of 2004. During roughly the same time period, Livingston, his wife, and his two political action committees (PACs) contributed over $500,000 to the PACs or campaign funds of various candidates.
The Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal which started in the 1990s and led to a guilt plea in 2006 inspired the 'Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006' (S. 2349) which was debated on the Senate floor in March 2006. According to Time Magazine article in its April 10 issue, the Senate passed legislation the first week of April 2006 to reform U.S. lobbying practices. The Senate bill:
bars lobbyists themselves from buying gifts and meals for legislators, but it leaves a big loophole: firms and organizations represented by those lobbyists may still dole out freebies;
Privately funded trips would still be allowed if lawmakers get prior approval from a commissioned ethics committee;
It would also require lobbyists to file more frequent, more detailed reports on their activities, which would be posted in public domains. The bill was approved in 2006 by a 90-8 vote.
The above bill incorporated the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006 (H.R. 4975) legislation, which governs lobbyists, into a section and included another section which modified Senate rules. Some senators and a coalition of good-government groups assailed the bill as being too weak.
The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 was a comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform bill. The bill, (H.R. 2316), passed on May 24, 2007 in the United States House of Representatives in the 110th United States Congress by a vote of 396-22-14. A parallel Senate version of the legislation, (S. 1), passed the House on July 31, 2007 by a vote of 411 to 8. After the House & Senate resolved their differences and passed an amended revision, President Bush signed the enrolled bill into law (Pub.L. 110-81).
The Executive Branch Reform Act, H.R. 985 was a bill which would have required 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. The U.S. Department of Justice has raised constitutional and other objections to the bill.
On 21 January 2009, the day after he took office, U.S. President Barack Obama signed two executive orders and three presidential memoranda] to help ensure his administration would be a more open, transparent, and accountable government. These documents attempt to rein in the influence of lobbyists, bring increased accountability to federal spending, and limit influence of special interests; they include a lobbyist gift ban and a "revolving door" ban. In May 2009, a Recovery Act Lobbying Rules set new limits on special interest influence.
Economy of United States
Economy of United States
Lobbying expenditure by sector
The top sectors and their total spending between 1998 and 2010 were:
Client Amount Spent Percentage of Total
1 Finance, Insurance & Real Estate $4,274,060,331 14.53%
2 Health $4,222,427,808 14.53%
3 Misc Business $4,149,842,571 14.11%
4 Communications/Electronics $3,497,881,399 11.89%
5 Energy & Natural Resources $3,104,104,518 10.55%
6 Transportation $2,245,118,222 7.63%
7 Other $2,207,772,363 7.50%
8 Ideological/Single-Issue $1,477,294,241 5.02%
9 Agribusiness $1,280,824,983 4.12%
10 Defense $1,216,469,173 4.13%
11 Construction $480,363,108 1.63%
12 Labor $427,355,408 1.45%
13 Lawyers & Lobbyists $336,170,306 1.14%
Note: These amounts do not include campaign contributions.