LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:
“..and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” –First Amendment to the United States Constitution
Some get caught up in illegal activity. Others are honest in their attempts to represent client concerns. Who are they? Lobbyists. Political lobbying has existed as long as voters and elected leaders have. The meaning of “lobby” is the only newer thing about it. The term lobbying was found in newspapers in 1820, lobbyism in 1824, and lobbyist in 1846 as the first uses of lobby in print. Around 1810, political use of lobby was known in the northeast legislatures. Some speak of Ulysses S. Grant having coined the term in the 1860s when people would wait for him in the Willard Hotel lobby to talk, or as possibly beginning outside of British Houses of Parliament.
Yet, lobby comes from an earlier usage of the German word “louba” meaning hall or roof. In the 18th century, people would come to British theaters and became known as lobby loungers. They would come not to watch a play, but gather outside of box seat areas to visit with prominent people. Such occurrences became known in America as well.
A more commonly heard use of lobbying connected to political use relates to people congregating outside of the House Chamber waiting to catch a lawmaker’s attention and was known as such since the beginning of the United States Congress. Spectators, vendors, and ambassadors would fill the area which created noise for the Chamber where acoustics and ventilation were already poor.
At the time, there were no offices or other areas for constituents to meet with their Representatives, making the lobby area a best place for visits. It became the Old Hall where the House of Representatives met, and is now Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol, before the 1857 opening of the new House Chamber which included an area that was called the Speaker’s Lobby. There, people would wait to see the Speaker who officed behind the Speaker’s chair, and representatives would talk, relax yet maintain an ability to keep up with proceedings on the Floor, and meet with constituents and people who were gaining notice as professional lobbyists. The area became a popular place to meet until 1908 when the first offices opened for Representatives to meet with visitors. The new House Chamber could now accommodate Representatives for a growing America adding more and more states to the Union.
To “lobby” has been termed from various sources as one who comes to visit, to connect with others. Politically, to lobby is to seek the ear of an elected official to influence votes on legislation. This description makes any constituent who writes, visits, or calls his or her congressman, a “lobbyist.” And as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, any American citizen may petition the government without fear of punishment or retaliation. What is it, then, that makes people cringe at the word, lobbyist?
Unfortunately, it has been all too easy for businesses and organizations to hire professional lobbyists who could work around legal ways to influence lawmakers. These lobbyists could essentially bring laws to pass with great impact and fund candidates running for office. This is why people who meet requirements for being lobbyists are required to register as lobbyists based on the amount of time they spend representing clients in front of lawmakers. Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, they are required to report what they do and money they spend on their efforts. Many bring gifts to legislators and they are required to report what they spend on those gifts which is a limited amount by law.
This does not mean that all lobbyists are dishonest or lobbying is bad. Lobbying can be a helpful tool to reach legislative goals that individuals want to reach as groups. Each individual voter wants to be heard. This includes voters who are part of organizations and businesses. Such voters may be part of groups with similar interests and can bring a large voice to bear on Members of Congress.
This is also why it is important for each individual voter, whether part of an organization or business that lobbies or not, to remain engaged in the political process, America’s Founders set in place, in some way and especially at the ballot box.
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.” –Thomas Jefferson
It can seem that the Legislative Branch of American government is at such a large-scale that individual involvement is of little or no consequence. Yet, Members of Congress want to hear from constituents and they will tell constituents that letters, visits and phone calls do make a difference. Representatives who run to serve in elected, public office are people who vote too. They had to spend time listening to individuals with concerns and who encouraged them to run for office.
Representatives wish to follow through with promises made and the reasons they felt compelled to run for an elected seat. However, accountability is continually needed on all fronts – by those elected and those who voted them in. As long as America has representative government with no king, it means “We the People” people are in charge. It is important to remember that each American citizen holds the greatest opportunity to influence and voice concerns to leaders elected not to obtain power, but to serve.
Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is the author of Who Wants to Be Free? Make Sure You Do!, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments(2017), and Moments with Billy Graham(forthcoming).
History, Art & Archives – Lobbying in the Lobby
History, Art & Archives – The opening of the current House Chamber
The National Museum of American History – Lobbying
United States House of Representatives Office of the Clerk – Lobbying Disclosure
Thomas Jefferson – Monticello