What is a Lobbyist? - FAQs About Lobbying

Frequently Asked Questions About Lobbying

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The role and influence of a lobbyist is widely misunderstood. What industries spend the most on lobbying? How does someone become a lobbyist? Read these frequently asked questions and learn all about them.

What is a lobbyist?

A lobbyist is an activist who seeks to persuade members of the government (like members of Congress) to enact legislation that would benefit their group. The lobbying profession is a legitimate and integral part of our democratic political process that is not very well understood by the general population. While most people think of lobbyists only as paid professionals, there are also many volunteer lobbyists. Anyone who petitions the government or contacts their member of Congress to voice an opinion is functioning as a lobbyist. Lobbying is a regulated industry and a protected activity under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees rights to free speech, assembly, and petition.

Lobbying involves more than persuading legislators. Professional lobbyists research and analyze legislation or regulatory proposals, attend congressional hearings, and educate government officials and corporate officers on important issues. Lobbyists also work to change public opinion through advertising campaigns or by influencing 'opinion leaders'.

Who do lobbyists work for?

Lobbyists represent just about every American institution and interest group - labor unions, corporations, colleges and universities, churches, charities, environmental groups, senior citizens organizations, and even state, local or foreign governments.

What industries spend the most on lobbying?

According to OpenSecrets.org, the following data was recorded by the Senate Office of Public Records. The top 10 industries for 2016 were:

Pharmaceuticals/Health Products - $63,168,503
Insurance - $38,280,437
Electric Utilities - $33,551,556
Business Associations - $32,065,206
Oil & Gas - $31,453,590
Electronics Mfg & Equipment - $28,489,437
Securities & Investment - $25,425,076
Hospitals/Nursing Homes - $23,609,607
Air Transport - $22,459,204
Health Professionals - $22,175,579

How does someone become a lobbyist? What background or training is needed?

Lobbyists come from all walks of life. Most are college graduates, and many have advanced degrees. Many lobbyists begin their careers working on Capitol Hill in a congressional office. Lobbyists must have strong communication skills and knowledge of the legislative process as well as the industry that they are representing. While there is no formal training to become a lobbyist, the State Government Affairs Council offers the Lobbying Certificate Program, a continuing education program which helps those of all skill levels improve their knowledge of the legislative process and lobbying profession.

Many lobbyists get experience while in college by interning on Capitol Hill. See a guide to Washington, D.C. Internships - Interning on Capitol Hill.

Does a lobbyist have to be registered?

Since 1995, the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) has required individuals who are paid for lobbying at the federal level to register with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. Lobbying firms, self-employed lobbyists and organizations employing lobbyists must file regular reports of lobbying activity.

How many lobbyists are there in Washington, D.C.?

As of 2016, there are approximately 9,700 registered lobbyists at the state and federal levels.  Many of the major lobbying firms and advocacy groups are located on K Street in Downtown Washington, D.C.

What restrictions are there on gifts by lobbyists to members of Congress?

The general gift rule provision states that a Member of Congress or their staff may not accept a gift from a registered lobbyist or any organization that employs lobbyists. The term “gift” covers any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, or other item having monetary value.

Where does the term “lobbyist” come from?

President Ulysses S. Grant coined the term lobbyist in the early 1800s. Grant had a fondness for the Willard Hotel lobby in Washington DC and people would approach him there to discuss individual causes.

Additional Resources About Lobbying

  • Open Secrets – Center for Responsive Politics – A nonpartisan guide tracking the spending on U.S. elections and public policy, including lobbying activities
  • Office of the Clerk – Explains the details of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, the lobbying registration process
  • Center for Effective Government - Project On Government Oversight, a leading nonpartisan independent watchdog, which champions good government reforms to achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.
  • Lobbyingfirms.com – A lobbying industry directory
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