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When Did "Lobby" Become A 4-Letter Word?

June 27, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 154

Lobbying is a dirty word.

Ask anyone. Read the paper. Watch TV. Listen to talk radio. For the past few years every time I heard about political influence and lobbying there was a prevailing view that if we just got rid of the Washington lobbyists everything would be fine.

But is this possible or even desirable? Is it what we really want?

I don't think so.

According to the First Amendment of the US Constitution "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." [1]

Apparently the founders were troubled by King George III's inability to listen to polite criticism.

Basically, the Constitution gives us not only the right to talk to our representative, but encourages us to appeal to them, to persuade them, to convince them to our point of view, i.e. to lobby. The First Amendment guarantees it.

We're doing it every day with our spouse anyway, with our roommates, our co-workers, and our boss. So why do we have such a problem with lobbying?

For most of us I think we feel that it is unfairly applied -- meaning that it's only the big guys and the special interests that actually make their views known to Congress. This is generally true.

But that's not their fault. It's ours.

In the last 10 years the lobbying industry has doubled in size and grown into a $3.5B per year business with about 10,000 lobbyists,[2] and that's just at the federal level.

We, the silent majority (I include myself in this group) have been conditioned to believe that if we vote for a representative every few years, that will be good enough. We'll get what we want. We now know that's a myth.

Occasionally the literary, the erudite and brave ones among us write a letter to our congressman, to the editor of our local newspaper or the New York Times. Some of us sign petitions, make campaign contributions or even go out and protest.

But does that get the job done? Sometimes it does.

Personally, I'd like to believe that one brilliant, well-written letter to my Congressman with a nice follow-up phone call to their Legislative Director would be enough to get him or her to change their opinion about a pending law. But out of the almost 700,000 constituents[3] in my congressional district there are likely a handful of people who would take the exact opposite position of me.

Sometimes they have more money, more time on their hands and they're more eloquent than I am. If they work for a large corporation with a PAC or are a union member they seem to have greater political advantage to getting their views in front of my congressman and often make more of an impression then I can alone as an individual.

I should just give up, right? Let someone else decide what's right for me.


So is that why "lobby" has become a four-letter word?

If I can't lobby, don't let anyone else do it either. If I can't effectively persuade my representative, no one else should either. We should just rely on the ballot box.

But The Economist recently pointed out that "As this direct democracy" and its consequence "ballot-box budgeting", have grown representative democracy (ie; the legislature) has become dysfunctional... California suffers from the same hyper-partisan and acrimonious deadlock between Republicans and Democrats as Washington does." [4]

You and I have the right to petition our government for grievances and express our point of view. In all likelihood I'm not really sure that my point of view is going to be heard or even taken into account. Don't ask me why. It's just how I feel.

Sometimes I wondered if there were other people who thought the way I do.

So I started asking around at the Little League, soccer practice, Boy Scouts and Brownies and to other parents at our children's school and once we got past the "Oh, it's okay to talk about politics." part, I found that for the most part everyone seemed really frustrated by the political process. I was in good company.

These were just average people; teachers, lawyers, barbers, car salesmen, repairman and a few VCs. No matter who it was, they really believed that if they voted and got "their" candidate into office, then we would have a panacea for this nasty problem of highly paid lobbyists controlling the agenda.

Everything would be wonderful again.

But deep in their hearts, they suspected that their singular voice did not matter and so often resigned themselves to saying "But what can you do? There's nothing you can do."

Personally, I doubt if this is true because I think our representative has a point of view about what issues are important to her, what side of the argument she stands on and what she would and would not vote for and support. She would welcome hearing from her constituents either directly or indirectly.

That's why we have a representative democratic republic. We elect our representatives and they make the decisions. Got it?

They don't do what you want. They do what they want. The only thing you can do is vote them out and get somebody else in.

But why wait two years before we have a conversation with them?

Have our apathy, focus and daily distractions kept us away from debate on the real issues?

If we evaluated our employees and spoke to our spouse once every two years, we wouldn't have a job or a marriage. The dialog needs to be persistent, focused and fact-based.

I think members of Congress are pretty much realists and political animals. They understand that in order to pass legislation they have to convince half of the House or Senate to agree with them on key points. So your congressman is always involved in coalition building no matter what the issue is. He is trying to persuade his peers to get them to agree with him every day he is in office.

This act of persuading or trying to bring him around to my point of view then, is really an appeal on my part and is in fact, lobbying. I am trying to convince him to think the way I do, believe what I do and therefore vote the way I would like him to vote.

The frustrating part for all of us is that our representatives don't always vote the way we want.

Someone persuading someone else or lobbying someone is not a terrible thing. So, we shouldn't get rid of it.

Effective lobbying is pure salesmanship. There are good sales people and bad ones. They inform us about products and services. From them we ultimately learn the distinctions, comparisons and differences among a wide variety of choices. Products or politics, it's all the same.

Lobbyists educate our legislators. If they appear to have too much power it's only because we have taken a backseat and allowed a representative democracy to take place where we are not actively engaged anymore.

We have taken ourselves out of the political debate and we spend our time in our apolitical routine.

Consider the persistently high ratings for Americas Got Talent[5] versus political news briefings.

If we can bring ourselves together we could take charge and have a voice in the political arena. We could pool our resources and have as much clout as a top lobbyist.

What separates us from the activity of lobbyists?

Three critical things:

  1. Clarity of message
  2. A critical mass of constituents who believe in the same thing
  3. Consistency of financial support for the issue and the persistence to follow through

With these three elements we too can shape our political destiny.

Am I describing political Utopia?

No. I am simply describing a crowd-sourced funding platform for personal persuasion. This would enable the silent majority to debate and express their views.

Voting is important but having a consistent dialog with our representatives between elections should not be set aside.

This way, you do not have to stand in the street on a rainy night waiting for the media to feature you on the 6 o'clock news in order to gain attention for your burning issue. Those days are over.

You don't have to sit in your public affairs office wondering how you are going to locate 10,000 supporters outside your district. You do not have to sign petitions that you don't understand, nor wonder if your campaign contribution is enough to help gain you access to your representative.

You don't have to act in isolation anymore. The technological and practical means for political change are here today.

You can come together to shape your future without quitting your day job.

If we act in unison on key issues, it is my belief that we would turn "lobby" from a four-letter pejorative word into a six-letter statement of personal power spelled ILobby.

[1] US Congress. (n.d.). Amendments to the Constitution Article I. Retrieved 07 04, 2012, from US House of Representatives

[2] Politics, C. f. (2012, June 19). Open Secrets. Retrieved from Lobbying Database

[3] Census, US. (2010, April 1). US Census 2010. Retrieved from Apportionment Data

[4] The Economist. (2012, June 16). California, Not Quite Greek But Still Weak. The Economist

[5] Ratings, Nielsen. (2012, June 18). Television Prime Broadcast Network TV - United States Week of June 18, 2012. Retrieved from Top 10 TV Ratings | Top 10 TV Shows

John Thibault is the founder and CEO of iLobby. iLobby® is a micro-lobbying matching service that connects voters with professional lobbyists to resolve issues with their political leaders. Put simply, this is lobbying for the little guy. Find out more at

Source: EzineArticles
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