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  • Writer's pictureDavion E. Percy

What Is a Lobbyist?

As the owner of a lobbying/public affairs firm, people often ask me about my profession as a lobbyist. They’ve often heard about lobbyists from a legal drama or newscast and want to know what we do to influence the government. Lobbying has a rich history that has contributed to our society and democracy. Here is a look into the reality of a lobbyist:

Overview: What Is a Lobbyist?

Generally, a lobbyist is someone who tries to influence public officials on behalf of a group. We may also represent individuals with special interests in communicating with elected officials. As such, we are professionals in government relations.

Anyone can engage in lobbying, but that does not automatically qualify them as a lobbyist. Qualifications for professional lobbying vary in every state. However, a standard definition among all states is that lobbying is an attempt to influence the government for compensation.

For instance, in Maryland politics, an individual who annually spends at least $500 and earns at least $2,500 in activities meant to influence legislative or executive action, must register as a lobbyist.

History of Lobbying in America

Lobbying as a political tool has been a significant driver of American democracy since its inception in the early- to mid-19th century United States. Lobbyists would exercise their influence through persuasion, recommendation, or pressure.

For example, the 1890s were fundamental in lobbying for women’s rights. Woman lobbyists influenced politicians for women's suffrage. It was a long battle that eventually led to the amendment that granted women the right to vote in 1920.

What Lobbying Looks Like Today

Lobbying evolved into the modern profession we know today through Constitutional amendments and court cases that upheld the activity as a form of free speech. It remains a vital part of the American political system.

People with common interests form coalitions and pool their resources to achieve a mutual goal. However, many U.S. companies and industries conduct most of today’s lobbying. In particular, the pharmaceutical industry has spent the most on lobbying efforts over the past 24 years.

Federal Lobbyists vs State Lobbyists

Professional lobbyists can lobby at the federal or state levels. Each level is different because of the unique rules and regulations each government entity sets. Here is an overview:

  • Federal Lobbyist: These professionals lobby members of Congress and federal agencies. Federal lobbying activities include preparing and planning the communication efforts to the Congress members or Congressional staff. Lobbyists would contact these officials through letters, faxes, emails, telephone calls, and face-to-face meetings.

  • State Lobbyist: These lobbyists attempt to influence state legislators and executive branch officials. They communicate directly with the members of staff of the Legislative Branch or Executive Branch. Their communication efforts and activities also incur expenses and earnings.

Final Words

Lobbyists are professional communicators who work to influence the government on behalf of their clients. We are vital to the American political process, as our work has led to some of the most significant changes in our democracy. For more questions about government relations, or if you would like to discuss potentially hiring a lobbyist, feel free to contact me.

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