Lobbying groups trying to convince government officials

Lobbying has become an intrinsic part of the governmental system both in the United States and around the world, but the commonplace practice of lobbying has the ability to overpower the influence of the average voter and favor certain groups over others. Lobbying, by definition, is the act of individuals or private interest groups trying to convince government officials to create legislation or pass laws that favor their agenda. This typically occurs in the lobby outside of the legislative chamber, hence the term, “lobbying” (lobbying). In most cases, lobbying is an important tool that can be used to stimulate change in the government that reflects the wants and needs of the American people, but it can also be taken advantage of by corrupt politicians and corporations to give specific groups an unfair advantage. With this knowledge, I think there should be more thorough of a vetting process for people who want to become a lobbyist, prohibiting any former members of office from lobbying once their term is up. This would make for a more even playing field for all interests of the American people and effectively end many of the issues in regard to money in politics. The first instances of lobbying in the US date back to around 1792 with William Hull, who was hired by veterans of the Continental Army to urge Congress to grant them more compensation for their service (Dwoskin). Hull is reported to have waited outside of the voting chamber to “give a hint to a Member, tease or advise as may best suit” (Byrd).  Soon after, the use of lobbyists for special interest groups became more and more widespread throughout the country. Speculation of misuse and foul play in lobbying began virtually as early as the practice itself. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, there were reports that The Bank of the United States, a private company chartered by the federal government, was obtaining special attention from legislators. This led to distrust of the bank by the general public and the media. It didn’t help that several former directors of the bank later became elected officials. This observation raised red flags for many, as it seemed to pose a clear conflict of interest. James Madison saw issues with this and wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson expressing his concerns. Andrew Jackson also picked up on flaws with the relationship between the government and the bank, so during his presidency, he discontinued the chartering of it and proceeded to veto bills that would favor it (Byrd). The introduction of higher tariffs and the implementation of corporate restrictions has incentivized companies to hire lobbyists and thus, has led to a major increase in the number of lobbyists in Washington. New England merchants and Southern farmers sent representatives to the capital to keep them updated on further motion in Congress and to push for their agenda. Railroad companies later joined in on the practice as the Industrial Age began, following the Civil War. They were primarily interested in gaining more attention from the government, especially for subsidies and grants. Two lobbyists recognized for representing railroad companies at the time were Collis Huntington and Tom Scott. They alone didn’t seem to obtain much attention from government officials, so they decided to hire other lobbyists to work under them. Some reports state that as many as two hundred lobbyists were working under a certain person at a given time. This started a chain-reaction for companies, even though paying so many lobbyists enormous sums of money didn’t necessarily guarantee positive results. Companies weren’t willing to jeopardize their lucrative ties to the government. Lobbying in the Gilded Age were noticed by writers such as Mark Twain, Charles Dudley Warner,  and Margaret Susan Thompson, who wrote novels on the subject (Byrd). Lobbying continued to grow and evolve over the nineteenth century and with it, came more risky advances in the field. Money became a more viable option for lobbyists, as it practically guaranteed the allegiance of politicians in some cases. This became common knowledge to the public and was relayed to uninvolved members of Congress. The speculations led to better regulation of the topic, starting in 1876. The House voted to require individuals to be registered through the House clerk before engaging in their lobbying efforts and the Senate agreed to the changes soon after. This push for regulation ended up forming the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which was a government group used to closely monitor lobbying galleries. At the end of the 1800s, the integral essence of lobbying changed. The primary type of lobbyist changed from a layman who was passionate about a certain topic, to trained professional lobbyists whose sole purpose was to be hired by various organizations and fight for their legislation to be passed.  There was a noticeable shift in Washington, from lobbying being a reaction to laws by groups so that the government represented everyone equally, to a field of entities that proactively manipulate the system in their favor. Presidents looking to reform government such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson noticed flaws in the lobbying system and pointed out the corruption associated with conservatives at the time. This helped them push their agendas, while also bringing attention to the topic. At the beginning of the 1920s, the support for lobbyist regulation in Congress was fairly unpopular, but became necessary to pass by the end of the 1930s due to various scandals throughout the decade and the tenacious investigating by Alabama senator, Hugo Black. His probing into the Associated Electric & Gas Company was eye-opening or many and led to a stronger push for lobbyist registration. The 1950s and 1960s saw a call for more openness in both lobbying and Congress, redefining what “legislation” and the act of “lobbying” consists of  through the Supreme Court case, U.S. v. Harriss in 1954. The Watergate scandal that plagued the 1970s caused a public outcry for more accountability in government. This led to stricter regulation on lobbying and campaigning, starting with the Ford administration (Byrd). The recent past has seen an influx of organized special interest groups designed to rally exorbitant amounts of money to fund candidates and agendas, which are becoming an essential part of governmental campaigns, even on local levels. The money required to fund an average campaign today is astronomically high compared to elections during the founding of the country. Candidates rely on big donors to run their campaign, and in doing, so are probably pushing for very specific causes to appease those who contribute the most money. Overall, the importance of money in politics is constantly growing, and despite government action to limit foul play, there is still immense overrepresentation of certain groups and underrepresentation of others, solely based on monetary power, which has the potential to influence our entire governmental process. Scandals within lobbying practices started in the 1850s. Samuel Colt had a bill being debated in Congress on whether or not to grant him an extension for one of his patents. His request ended up passing, but it later came out that some of his representatives had essentially bribed and threatened some senators and their families to get what they wanted. His people staged various ruses and presented gifts to the members of Congress, which undoubtedly helped to sway votes in his favor (Byrd). Again in 1872, there was a conflict involving The Crédit Mobilier company, who allegedly traded railroad stocks for guaranteed support in Congress. The company, a group formed under the Pacific Railroad, used illegal tactics to convince influential politicians contracts to give them lucrative contracts to build the eastern portion of the continental railroad.  This scandal was made public when The New York Sun got wind of the news and published the story, coincidentally the day before Congressional elections. This led to an investigation and censure of two members of the Senate, Oakes Ames and James Brooks. It also tarnished the reputations of others mentioned in the report, such as Schuyler Colfax, Harry Wilson, and James A. Garfield. Not only did this ruin the careers of otherwise notable politicians, but it also damaged the reputation of lobbying in general (Foner). “The King of the Lobby,” Sam Ward, gained attention through his personal success in business and politics, and also for his partnership with Treasury Secretary at the time, Hugh McCulloch. He worked to help in restoring the country’s finances following the Civil War. He got support of Congress by hosting elaborate dinners at his own home, which proved to actually be a very successful tactic. He also worked with various private corporations and foreign countries, who used Ward to push bills through Congress more efficiently. Although many of his tactics could be seen as rather shady, he managed to remain out of the public spotlight for the most part. He was, however, called to stand before a judge for his work with the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. He testified in court and was never proven guilty on any accounts (Byrd).  In the early 1900s, the trend of lobbying only increased in popularity, especially during the formation of many profitable trusts in oil and steel, with Standard Oil and U.S. Steel leading the pack. They had virtually unlimited funds to put toward pushing their agenda, which only became easier as more former members of Congress turned to lobbying once their political career had ended. This created a dynamic similar to that of a “Millionaires Club” according to cartoonists as well as the writer and provocateur, author Grahams Phillips.  In 1913, The New York World decided, after observing the questionable lobbying practices of corporations in government, to run a series of articles exposing the tactics of the National Association of Manufacturers. This same publication outed another instance of these types of practices some fifteen years later, accusing Connecticut Senator Hiram Bingham of having close ties to a private manufacturing group, which ultimately cost him his seat for reelection. In the 1960s, an Iowa newspaper outed Senate Majority Whip Bobby Baker for accepting bribes from lobbyists in exchange for valuable access to Congressmen. There was an investigation launched looking into these suggestions, uncovering the politician’s history of tax evasion. The Supreme Court took on a case of Korean lobbyists in 1976, which revealed their illegal distribution of gifts to multiple Congressmen, leading to the punishment of five state representatives. Fast-forward to 2005, where lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his colleagues organized a scheme involving Native American gambling casinos. They plead guilty on multiple accounts, including bribery, fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy (Ritchie). The scandals that tainted the image of lobbyists were important in drawing attention to flaws in the system, and oftentimes led to reformation. It took a kind of trial-and-error to constantly repair the loopholes overlooked by legislators. The practice rapidly increased in popularity, so there wasn’t enough time for government to react and work out all the kinks. Though there have been many changes made since the 1800s, there are still improvements that need to be made even today.Some noted benefits of lobbying is that it supplies unwitting officials with the knowledge of the public for a particular topic. For instance, a representative hired by a farming organization can inform officials about a topic they’ve never personally experienced, which supplies them with broader understanding to form their decisions. Lobbying as a concept should encourage participation from all aspects of society, to create a balanced, well-rounded government that fits the needs of all individuals. When those needs aren’t being met, that should elicit a response from those affected, and that response should make it to Washington so that the necessary changes can be made. It is a form of immediate feedback for how legislators are doing. Without lobbying, it would be almost impossible for all of Congress to make sound decisions on bills. Lobbyists inform officials on the topics being debated, and relay the messages of American citizens.  They act as a liaison between specific groups and the people who create the laws. The lobbyist is typically experienced in the field of politics and can efficiently stimulate movement in the government. They are able to draft bills for the representatives, which saves time and tax dollars dollars. The proposed bills give an insight to the topic and acts as a basis for legislators to work on. One major flaw that comes along with lobbying is that it gives corporations more power for their vote than the average citizen. Money certainly has always been a deciding factor on which voices are heard and which ones aren’t. Those that can afford to hire lobbyists to go to Washington and personally interact with the representatives, such as corporation and monopolies, are far more likely to succeed than those that don’t. This gives a much larger advantage to the wealthy, perpetuating the cycle of their wealth and subsequently, the latter’s poverty. A study out of Northwestern University shows that if a majority of the general population agrees on a certain outcome of a bill, that bill has a 30% chance of getting passed in the House and Senate. To the same effect, if a minority of the population agrees an outcome, it also has a 30% chance of passing through Congress. This is staggering, especially because if corporations support a bill, it has over a 60% chance of becoming law and bills rejected by them almost always fail. These claims point to the fact that corporations are really what influences government. The average American has a statistically minuscule effect on public policy. Another problem is the “Revolving Door Effect,” which is the tendency for former members of Congress committees to become lobbyists once their political career ends and vice-versa, or worse, during their time in office (Gilman). This is a huge conflict of interest because through this pattern, one is able to gain power and notability with important officials and learn how the government operates while they’re active, and use that experience in their lobbying work, blurring the line between government and the private sector and giving themselves and their causes a significant advantage in the political sphere. The laissez-faire approach to lobbying is obviously ineffective for controlling the misuse of power on both the side of the lobbyist and the political official. The temptation of money in exchange for favors is one not easily rejected if there isn’t any punishment for doing so. The scandals beginning with the inception of the concept act sas proof that there should be a standard of accountability and transparency so that the government can run smoothly to serve all sects of society. In reaction to all the continued instances of corruption and manipulation related to lobbying throughout the 20th century, there has been some legislation passed in efforts to further regulate the practice. For example, in 1995, the Lobbying Disclosure Act was introduced by Senator Carl Levin, passed through Congress, and was signed into law by President Clinton. It incorporated some of the original stipulations made in the 1800s and was amended by Congress in 2007 under President Bush. Among many other various things, this bill required any person hired by more than one individual or corporation to lobby on their behalf, to be registered as a lobbyist through the Clerk of the House, as well as the Secretary of the Senate as a lobbyist. Any entity failing to do so is to receive up to a $50,000 fine and up to a year in prison. It requires that any organization contributing over $10,000 toward a lobbyist be registered. It prohibited any person closely connected to Congress from lobbying within a two year period after leaving their position, and prohibited spouses of Senators from being registered lobbyists. Members of Congress are also prohibited from receiving gifts or compensation from any lobbyist. Any violations to the rules and all people involved would be fined $200,000 (Babington). This bill, if executed properly, would largely help to regain order in the practice of lobbying and provide the public with more transparency on the issue. It was designed to specifically target instances of wrongdoing that were overlooked by the laws at the time. President Obama vowed at the beginning of his presidency to crack down on rogue lobbyists, implementing a bill in his first term that stipulated that any person spending over 20% of their time on lobbying for a single corporation be registered and monitored by the federal government (“Lobbyists Go Underground”). This seems like a good move, but perversely, it has led to more underground manipulations by lobbying firms to narrowly evade that clause. This reality is obvious in the stark drop in lobbyists in recent years, in contrast the steadily rising lobbying expenses every year. If anything, this law has made it easier for lobbyists to go unnoticed by the eyes of the government and the public. These bills both have good intentions to make it harder for lobbyists to remain anonymous, but they both have their flaws and loopholes. It’s difficult for Congress to pass legislation that would harshly regulating the practices, as they are constantly being coerced  by powerful individuals and corporations to leave the issue alone.If I were to make a bill, I would design it so that any and all former members of Congress be prohibited from practicing lobbying and I would call for all lobbyists of any scale be registered. With all the hustle and bustle within the political sphere today, there needs to be a stricter form of regulation and accountability so that any corruption that goes on can be traced back. American corporations can evade US lobbying laws by sing the 20% loophole and others like it to manipulate the system. In many countries, including the United Kingdom, there is a similar connotation to the lobbying culture. “Corporate lobbying is just another big scandal waiting to happen,” said former United Kingdom prime minister, David Cameron, “We all know how it works” (Milne). The UK is similar to the United States in most of their lobbying terms. They do not, however, require full disclosure for lobbying registration, which has been problematic for them. To ensure a thoroughly regulated government as free from corruption as possible, it is necessary for all bases to be covered. Frankly, many businesses are willing to go to lengths to make the most fiscally efficient decisions, which may go against rules put in place in the United States. There should be a clear divide between corporations and politicians, and to enforce this, there should be a strict protocol put in place to monitor all practices of government officials, and this should always be changing and improving to adapt to new loopholes. Relying on self-policing and outside sources to uncover scandals isn’t enough to completely stop violations. The two-year waiting period isnt enough for Congressmen from engaging in malpractice. Closing these gaps in current legislation would make for a more fair playing field for all interest groups, not just the ones representing the top.The American people deserve for their voices to be heard equally, no matter how much money they have. Lobbying has major advantages to the legislative process, but unfortunately it’s too easy to exploit the privileges that come along with it. The shady practices around registration, bribery, etc. can be detrimental to democracy, but the practice of lobbying would be an important resource to expedite work in Congress after some changes to current laws. The sandals have proven over the years that many succumb to the temptations and pressures that come along with politics and money. Making it so that the public has full insight into the lobbying practices of Washington D.C. is a step in the right direction for creating a democracy representing all sects of society.

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