Lobbying: Definition, Purpose & Methods

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  • 0:01 What Is Lobbying?
  • 0:53 How Is it Done?
  • 1:40 Who Uses Lobbyists?
  • 2:09 Limitations on Lobbying
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Many of us have heard about lobbyists and how they have a lot of influence on government, but do we know how they actually work? Who even hires these people? This lesson answers those questions.

What Is Lobbying?

Maybe at some point in your life you've had a mutual friend ask the object of your affection how they felt about you. Or, maybe you've helped someone get a job by telling your boss that they would be a good employee. In either case, there was lobbying going on. Lobbying is the act by which someone tries to convince someone in authority to make a desired change on behalf of a third party.

You were lobbying your employer to get your friend a job, and your friend was lobbying for you when asking that cute person if they thought you were funny. No one faults you for doing either; it's just a part of having friends. However, what if you had paid someone to do that for you? Now it gets a little less innocent. Yet, paid lobbying is a major industry, not only in Washington but even at the state and local level.

How Is it Done?

Let's say that rather than trying to get the nerve to ask someone out, you were trying to get a wider road built to your business. By expanding the road, your employees could have a shorter commute, since less of it would be spent in traffic. Now you could go to your city council or state house and meet with the politicians involved, but you can only really and practically do that for a day or two at a time.

Wouldn't it be better to have someone there all the time? That's what a lobbyist does. Constantly, they are presenting the cases of their clients to politicians. In fact, the term itself comes from the fact that they used to meet politicians in the lobbies of nice hotels. While you the business owner could only appear every so often, they are there to make sure that the politician never forgets your cause.

Who Uses Lobbyists?

For a company owner faced with the need for something from the government, like you and your updated road, lobbyists can be invaluable. However, it's not just companies that have lobbyists. Special interest groups are groups of individuals that have a like-minded mission and use dues and donations to hire lobbyists. Often, you'll hear this word thrown around as a bad thing, but the simple fact is that every politician has to play up to some special interest groups, whether it's a group of investment bankers or a teachers union.

Limitations on Lobbying

By now, you've probably noticed something: lobbyists get a lot of time with politicians. How do you think they pull that off? Try calling your congressperson. Go ahead, try it. If you want, I can save you the trouble - a very polite, but very firm staffer will offer to take your message and make sure that the congressman or congresswoman gives it her full attention. Even if you try to go to D.C. to see them, you will be told that they are busily working in their office and cannot be disturbed, except for maybe a handshake and a photo op.

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