What is a lobbyist?
A lobbyist is a professional hired to represent their client’s interests to Congress. All kinds of groups, from major businesses to unions to nonprofits, hire lobbyists.
Their role is part consultant and part advocate: lobbyists educate Members of Congress about how legislation will affect the group they represent — say, how banking regulation will impact a bank and its employees — and then advocate for the terms and policies they want.
In short, the lobbyist’s job is to get government to write policy and laws that benefit their client.
Can we ban lobbying?
No. The act of lobbying itself — advocating a position to an elected official — is not the issue, and is protected by the First Amendment. Individuals and Groups should be allowed to make a case to Congress about how proposed legislation will affect them.
The problem is when money, gifts, and favors are used to influence politicians and legislation. That is corruption.
How do Lobbyists Corrupt our Government?
1) Campaign Cash
Members of Congress must raise thousands of dollars every day to fund their reelection campaigns. Lobbyists help raise big money for politicians in order to buy favor with our elected officials.
There is an easier way to raise money faster. Just go to the people who already have big stacks of money set aside to give to politicians—lobbyists.— Alex Blumberg, Political Reporter
In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to run for Congress without relying heavily on lobbyists.
A lobbyist can throw you a fundraiser. And so, every week, lawmakers and their staffs work the phones, trying to find lobbyists to organize these events.— Andrea Seabrook, Political Reporter
The lobbyist essentially becomes a middleman through which corporate and private interests can hand Members of Congress big wads of cash. Members of Congress know exactly which industries these lobbyists represent, and who to keep happy with favorable legislation if they want the money to keep coming.
We have a policy that all checks have to be hand-delivered. So we have to go up and eyeball the candidate and talk to them and deliver the check. Wouldn’t you remember if someone handed you a check, versus just got it in the mail?— Scott Talbott, Financial Services Lobbyist
2) Lucrative Job Offers (The Revolving Door)
Lobbyists routinely offer Members of Congress and their staffers lucrative jobs at their firms or their client’s companies after they leave the Hill. We’re talking jobs with outrageous, multi-million dollar salaries.
The phenomenon of Members of Congress heading off to work for lobbying firms and their clients is know as “the revolving door.”
“In 1974, 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Now 50 percent of senators and 42 percent of congressmen do. No one goes home anymore.”— Mark Leibovich, Political Reporter
The average increase in salary for Members of Congress who become lobbyists? 1,452%.
““I would say to [the Member], ‘When you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’ The moment I said that, we owned them.“— Former
What’s the Solution?
The American Anti-Corruption Act contains several specific provisions designed to eliminate the policies and loopholes that allow special interests to effectively bribe Members of Congress with campaign contributions and job offers.
The American Anti-Corruption Act states:
Provision 1: Members of Congress may not raise funds from the interests they regulate
- Members of Congress may not accept contributions, directly or indirectly, in connection with an election for Federal office from a paid lobbyist or such lobbyist’s client.
- Members of Congress may not take actions to benefit special interests that make large contributions to their campaigns.
See Provision 1 in full legalese here
Is This Constitutional?
Yes. Requiring Members of Congress to recuse themselves from taking official actions in situations in which their independence of judgment is questioned is highly likely to be found constitutional. As the Supreme Court recently held in Nevada Comm’n on Ethics v. Carrigan, 131 S. Ct. 2343 (2011), restrictions on official actions taken by legislators do not constitute restrictions on the First Amendment free speech rights of such legislators.
Provision 2: Limit campaign contributions and certain fundraising activities by lobbyists
- Restrict lobbyist contributions to any single candidate to $500 per year.
- Prohibit lobbyists from soliciting or coordinating election funds for Members of Congress.
See Provision 2 in full legalese here
Is This Constitutional?
Yes. Imposing a $500 contribution limit on lobbyists is very likely to be found constitutional. This $500 amount permits lobbyists to express their support for candidates, but recognizes the increased danger of corruption presented by disproportionately large contributions. Several recent rulings have found limits on lobbyist contributions to be constitutional.
Provision 3: Prohibit lobbyists from using future job offers as bribes (i.e. close the “revolving door” between Members of Congress and lobbyists.)
- Extend the existing revolving door limitations for Members of Congress and top staffers to 5 years.
- Prohibit Members of Congress and top staffers from negotiating prospective private employment while serving in Congress.
- Require Members of Congress and top staffers to disclose all negotiations regarding prospective private employment to the public.
See Provision 3 in full legalese here
Is This Constitutional?
Yes. There is little doubt that these expanded revolving door restrictions are constitutional. Such restrictions on post government-service employment have been upheld on various occasions by various courts, because such laws prevent government employees from being “influenced in the performance of public duties by the thought of later reaping a benefit from a private individual.”
In the News:
Former Deputy Secretary of Energy becomes president of energy giant U.S. Enrichment Corp. (USEC) at 700% pay raise