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What Is a Lobbyist and What Do Lobbyists Do?

What Is a Lobbyist and What Do Lobbyists Do?

Have you ever thought about politics in general and whether it is something you wish to pursue as a career? However, you may not necessarily want to become a politician, one alternative is becoming a lobbyist. So, what is a lobbyist and what do lobbyists do?

A lobbyist is a professional advocate that works to influence political decisions on behalf of individuals and organizations. This advocacy could lead to the proposal of new legislation, or the amendment of existing laws and regulations. However, a lobbyist is prohibited from paying a politician to secure his or her vote on these matters.

How Do You Become a Lobbyist?

How Do You Become a Lobbyist?

From a regulatory perspective, all states will require that you be registered, once you meet the definition of a lobbyist, and pay an annual fee, depending on a particular state’s requirements. Therefore, it is especially important to understand the different rules of each state and ensure you are able to meet your regulatory obligations as a lobbyist.

There are no specific educational requirements, but most employers would require at least a bachelor’s degree, which can range from journalism, economics, communication, or political science. One could also obtain a degree in a specific area, such as criminal justice and be a lobbyist who focuses on this one area. Obtaining a master’s degree could increase your earning potential.

It is worthy to note that most lobbyists are usually former politicians, former staff of a politician, or lawyers. One common thread of lobbyists is that they have a deep knowledge of how things work in politics and more importantly how things get done in the center of the political universe, Washington D.C.

How Do States Define Lobbying and a Lobbyist?

The definition of a lobbyist can vary from state to state, but in its simplest form, a lobbyist is defined as an individual who performs lobbying activities on behalf of another for compensation.

Some states are vaguer than others, for obvious reasons, whereas some states have very well defined and specific definitions. One example is the state of California, which has an exceptionally low threshold as noted below:

“Lobbyist” is any individual who receives $2,000 or more in economic consideration in a calendar month, other than reimbursement for reasonable travel expenses, or whose principal duties as an employee are, to communicate directly or through his or her agents with any elective state official, agency official, or legislative official for the purpose of influencing legislative or administrative action.

Most states typically define lobbying as an attempt to influence government action through either written or oral communication. There are of course specific nuances in each state and exceptions.

What Are Some of the Job Functions of a Lobbyist?

Regardless, whether a lobbyist works for a multinational corporation or a nonprofit organization, the lobbyist’s primary job is to promote their clients’ agenda. This can be accomplished by performing some of the below-listed tasks:

  • Researching the respective policy
  • Creating publicity materials
  • Understanding and explaining the impact of bills/laws
  • Representing certain causes for their clients
  • Develop relationships
  • Educating and influencing others
  • Prepare disclosure reports

The last bullet is more of a regulatory requirement than a job function, as most states will have some type of periodic requirement for lobbyists and their employers to submit a public disclosure report. These disclosure reports detail the amount of money spent, issues that were lobbied and the officials that benefited from these expenditures.

This is obviously to ensure the activities between a lobbyist and any public officials are not questionable and to prevent any possible fraud or bribery.

What Skill Sets Are Needed to Be a Good Lobbyist?

How Do You Become a Lobbyist?

One obvious technical skill is to be knowledgeable or at least familiar with the topics or causes they are supporting or lobbying for.

Additionally, as with many jobs today, certain soft skills would enhance your ability to be a good lobbyist. See below for a list:

  • Negotiation
  • Problem solving
  • Public speaking
  • Planning and coordination

One especially important character trait is having ethics, lobbyists should be ethical and trustworthy.

What Is the Salary Range for a Lobbyist?

The available salary data for lobbyists are a bit vague, as not all positions are classified as a lobbyist; other job titles include political consultant, government relations or government affairs.

However, the available information appears to indicate a salary range from a low of $47,000 to a high of $203,000, with the national average approximately at $83,000. If simply based on the potential salary, this can be a fairly lucrative career.

There are also many lobbyists who work for a lobbying firm, so that adds another layer of secretiveness to this field.

Are There Different Types of Lobbyists?

Yes, listed below are some of the more common types of lobbyists:

  • Employee lobbyists
  • Volunteer lobbyists
  • Unsalaried lobbyists
  • Casual lobbyists
  • Intern lobbyists
  • Contract lobbyists
  • Self-employed lobbyists

Depending on which one of the above you choose, the accompanying requirements would differ, as discussed previously.

How Do Lobbyists Affect Our Government?

In theory, lobbyists help to provide public access to government legislators, can act as an educational tool, and allow individual interests to gain power through large numbers.

In practice, it can potentially be a quite different process. Too often, lobbyists operate in the shadows, and this is by choice. As one lobbyist noted, “The influence of lobbyists increases when it goes largely unnoticed by the public.” The primary reason a large corporation’s lobbying efforts can be vague or obscured is simply that it is a tactical investment. The lobbying efforts have in today’s world become another way of making money for these corporations.

Just in 2021 alone, lobbyists spent an eye-popping $3.73 billion on influencing political policy, which represents one of the highest amounts ever spent in a decade.

Now, to be very clear, the activity of lobbying in itself is absolutely legal and provided for in the US Constitution and protected by the First Amendment.

The way a lobbyist chooses to perform their duties can at times be questionable.

Related: How Do Lobbyists Influence Government Spending and Decision Making?

Is Lobbying Good for Democracy?

Lobbying can have a positive impact on democracy since in its purest form, it provides every citizen with the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” as noted in the US Constitution.

Unfortunately, it can also be a mechanism used by powerful groups or corporations to influence laws and regulations at the expense of the public interest.

Who Are the Highest-Paid Lobbyists?

The following lists the top 20 highest paid lobbyists in the country for 2021. You will notice that these are names of lobbying firms and not individuals. This is due to the sensitive nature of their job; therefore, many lobbyists’ names are not made public, and they are hidden behind the name of their firm.

  • Brownstein, Hyatt et al ($55,640,000)
  • Akin, Gump et al ($53,230,000)
  • BGR Group ($35,060,000)
  • Holland & Knight ($34,800,000)
  • Cornerstone Government Affairs ($34,380,000)
  • Invariant LLC ($31,160,000)
  • Forbes Tate Partners ($24,420,000)
  • Squire Patton Boggs ($24,290,000)
  • Mehlman, Castagnetti et al ($22,600,000)
  • Capitol Counsel ($21,860,000)
  • Crossroads Strategies ($21,660,000)
  • K&L Gates ($21,485,000)
  • Cassidy & Assoc ($20,440,000)
  • Tiber Creek Group ($19,500,000)
  • Thorn Run Partners ($18,930,000)
  • Van Scoyoc Assoc ($18,340,000)
  • Subject Matter ($18,120,000)
  • Ballard Partners ($18,030,000)
  • Covington & Burling ($17,333,000)
  • Alpine Group ($14,720,000)

Many of these firms are either a small part of a larger law firm or small boutique operations that specialize in one specific area, such as taxes or the budget process. Regardless of their size, as the list above shows, these firms had extremely lucrative contracts with corporations, trade groups, labor unions and other various organizations.

Which Industries Spend the Most on Lobbying?

Which Industries Spend the Most on Lobbying?

For a better perspective on how lobbying influences the government, you need to review which industry spends the most money on their lobbying efforts and then that may shed some light on how and why legislation is passed or not in the country.

Here are the top 20 industries by spend:

  • Pharmaceutical/Health Products ($352,845,426)
  • Electronics Mfg & Equip ($185,446,310)
  • Insurance ($152,651,641)
  • Business Associations ($120,781,743)
  • Hospitals/Nursing Homes ($116,863,316)
  • Oil & Gas ($115,409,896)
  • Health Services/MHOs ($113,370,312)
  • Telecom Services ($113,117,010)
  • Electric Utilities ($111,289,059)
  • Securities & Investments ($107,898,590)
  • Air Transport ($107,662,312)
  • Misc Manufacturing & Distributing ($104,322,822)
  • Civil Servants/Public Officials ($97,898,751)
  • Real Estate ($93,783,936)
  • Internet ($91,497,963)
  • Education ($85,903,939)
  • Health Professionals ($84,929,753)
  • Automotive ($72,112,422)
  • Misc Issues ($62,096,546)
  • Misc Energy ($61,814,692)

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