By Zachary Blevins
Lobbying is a dirty word; it’s a profession made up of unethical, immoral, greedy, manipulative, power-hungry people that only works for their own interests and not on behalf of the common good.
Okay, well, that’s not quite true. Lobbying is actually a positive, productive act in our political system that does not often receive the recognition it deserves. Lobbying helps politicians become educated on complex, sometimes mundane issues that are still important to the American people even if they aren’t the hot button issues of the day. Contrary to common belief, lobbyists are held accountable to present accurate, ethical information, because a lobbyist is done in this town if a politician cites incorrect information that is provided to them by that lobbyist. Lobbyists represent a vast array of perspectives, goals, and initiatives that shape the end result of legislation.
Lobbying can also bring about real change. Take the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN) for example. In an effort to reduce the number of people suffering from lung cancer in this country, ACSCAN advocated that Congress enact legislation that would regulate the marketing tactics of tobacco companies to adults and minors, making advertisements promoting tobacco products less likely to be seen by children. These were lobbyists: those unethical, immoral, greedy D.C elites that everyone despises. False perception? I think so.
At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge where this misperception comes from. As I mentioned before, people don’t believe that lobbyists are working for the common good; however, that idea of the common good is a fickle one. Oftentimes, when something is not aligned with the common good, it is in conflict with one’s own personal beliefs, morals, and values. But, just because it may be ideologically ambiguous to us does not make it inherently reprehensible. In other words, the common good can very easily mean different things to different people, thus creating false expectations and leading to disappointment and disapproval for the core act of advocacy.
Yet, the irony is that the spirit of lobbying is practiced on a wider scale than most people realize. Special interest groups may release ads – a form of lobbying. Civil marches and acts of protest can be forms of lobbying. Constituents contacting their legislators (phone call, mail, e-mail, Tweet, town hall, petition, you name it) is a form of lobbying. Each citizen can be a lobbyist without identifying themselves as one.
On top of that, virtually everyone is advocated for by a lobbyist even if they don’t know it. As Paul Doucette of Battelle said, “Everybody’s got lobbyists.” Lobbyists exist for almost every aspect of our lives, including for things we never would have dreamed there would be lobbyists for (take the National Association of Truck Stop Operators for example). Therefore, lobbying brings about a significant amount of change and progress in our daily lives that practically goes unnoticed. So, the notion of advocacy work being useless is simply not true.
To be fair, there is history within lobbying that involves unethical, immoral, greedy individuals. Every industry contains those. However, it is more important to understand the severity of those cases in context with the successes as well. In the case of lobbying, the good heavily outweighs the bad, making it an important element of our government system. Furthermore, lobbying is going to be more effective for people and this nation when we begin to view it as a resource for progress rather than a hinder to the process.