lobbying, practice and profession of influencing governmental decisions, carried out by agents who present the concerns of special interests to legislators and administrators. The term originated in the United States of the 1830s, when representatives of interest groups tended to congregate in the lobbies of Congress and state legislatures. It is now used in a broader sense to include attempts to influence any governmental actions.
In the United States lobbying has become an accepted and ubiquitous part of the political system; while federal and state legislators are technically representatives of geographical areas, they spend much of their time with lobbyists, and can be said at times to be responding to interest groups rather than to their constituents, to the degree that legislation drafted by lobbyists is sometimes introduced. Organizations such as corporations, financial institutions, labor unions, professional associations, educational groups, medical interests, farm alliances, and various public interest and social issue groups like Common Cause, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, the National Rifle Association, and the National Coalition for the Homeless maintain permanent lobbies in Washington and in state capitals to protect and further their interests. Lobbyists often deal directly with governmental decisionmakers, supplying technical information, making political threats or promises, and supplying friendship, entertainment, and other favors. Their indirect methods include the use of the mass media and mailing and telephone campaigns (some purporting to come from the "grass roots") and the organization of campaign funding vehicles known as political action committees (PACs).
The potential for corruption, especially bribery of officials, has given lobbying an unsavory connotation and has led to many attempts to regulate it, first at the state and later at the national level. The basic federal law has been the Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946, which requires registration of and regular financial reports from all individuals and agents seeking to influence legislation. In 1995, Congress passed a new bill intended to strengthen registration and disclosure requirements and to include within the definition of "lobbyist" some, e.g., lawyers, who had not previously been so designated.
See V. O. Key, Politics, Parties and Pressure Groups (5th ed. 1964); A. M. Scott et al., Congress and Lobbies (1966); S. Farkas, Urban Lobbying (1971); G. Wooton, Interest Groups (1971); M. T. Hayes, Lobbyists and Legislators (1984); C. Barnes, The Politics of Policy-Making and Pressure Groups (1987); R. G. Kaiser, So Damn Much Money (2009).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.