Should lobbying Congress be allowed?
- ‘Lobbying’ is defined as “trying to influence the thinking of legislators or other public officials for or against a specific cause.”
- Lobbying is a concept dating back to 1640 in the British parliament but carried over to America shortly after becoming a nation as the first lobbyist, William Hull, was hired in 1792 by the Virginia veterans of the Continental Army “specifically to lobby the newly formed Congress for additional compensation.” The word ‘lobbyist’ first appeared in print in the US in 1830.
- In October 2020, a CNBC report looks at the $3.5 billion dollar lobbying industry, describing it as “arguably the American government’s oldest profession” and one of the “main drivers of policy making in the US,” as lobbying has created a $3.5 billion industry. There are around 12,000 registered lobbying professionals as of 2019.
- The top five leading lobbying industries in the US as of 2021 are the pharmaceutical (spending 315-350 million), electronics (spending around 156-180m), insurance (spending 153-156m), business associations (spending 121-122m), and oil & gas industries (spending 112-119m).
- The US Chamber of Commerce is the largest lobbying group, representing millions of businesses and organizations and having spent nearly $1.4 billion in 2019.
Lobbying congress should not be allowed in our representative democracy. Our government is supposed to act in the people's interest, not a corporatocracy that works in the interests of businesses. The culture of companies and other entities like Big Pharma lobbying Congress began in the 1970s, mainly in response to all the progressive social changes of the 1960s. By the 1980s, business was firmly in control, and in the past two decades lobbying the government has gotten entirely out of hand. Spending increased from $1.45 billion in 1998 to $3.73 billion in 2021.
All this money means our government no longer represents our values or acts in our interests. The economic collapse America suffered in 2008 was due to the bad practices of banks and lenders. Still, lobbyists ensured those same companies received $700 billion in bailouts, and nobody went to jail. Meanwhile, six million Americans lost their homes and received no bailout.
Today, lobbyists prevent progress in every area of our government. Sixty-three percent of American adults want single-payer health care, but insurance lobbyists pay off government officials to prevent it. Eighty-eight percent wanted the government to negotiate lower drug prices, but the pharmaceutical lobbyists blocked any effort. For a couple of examples, 91% of US adults want cannabis legalized, but instead of federally protecting cannabis users, these efforts are blocked by prison/judicial reform lobbies. Likewise, two-thirds of Americans want to see further action on climate change, with 69% wanting the government to invest in renewable energy, but petrochemical lobbies frequently block both efforts. Today, only 19% of Americans trust the government to care for our basic needs, largely because of lobbying. Either lobbying ends, or there may be a complete loss of trust in our system of government.
While lobbyists are an easy target to explain why there are issues within America's republic, this outrage is misplaced in many ways. Even if people imagine shadowy characters forcing their corporate will on the population when they hear the word 'lobbyist,' the fact is that being a lobbyist merely means being a part of an organization that seeks to push legislators in one direction or another. In many cases, lobbyists are experts in a particular field or work alongside experts, often comprising former government officials or attorneys. Lobbyists are, therefore, fairly qualified to guide Congress people—who may have little knowledge on the subject matter—in making important decisions that affect the country. Ultimately, however, lobbyists can only attempt to influence legislators, as the final decision for any changes rests solely with Congress.
Likewise, it's important to remember that lobbyists are still citizens and enjoy the same rights all Americans do as granted by the 1st Amendment, namely the right to free speech and the right to petition the government. The Supreme Court has even held that lobbying is indeed protected speech. And contrary to popular belief, lobbyists not only represent corporate interests but can and do represent the interests of the people at large. For example, the ACLU—historically known and founded to defend American rights—engages in lobbying, as does the Free Speech Coalition. These organizations, along with many others, are not focused on increasing corporate profits but on defending the common person.
Finally, there are laws in place limiting what type of behavior lobbyists can engage in, such as not being able to attempt to bribe those in Congress to affect legislation. As lobbyists are citizens—often experts—acting well within their rights and within the law, lobbying Congress should certainly be allowed.