Lobbying for Lobbyists
By Shardul G., phoenix, AZ
Even though we may not understand the details, most people are familiar with how a bill becomes a law. From civics classes to popular culture, we are made aware of Congress’s role in the legislative process. Yet few people have a clear idea of exactly how a good idea becomes an effective law. At the forefront of the phenomenon is the lack of understanding Americans have about lobbyists. Lobbyists are important in ensuring that citizens’ interests are represented in the legislative process. Plain and simple, lobbyists provide information that may otherwise be forgotten. They are helpful in the legislative process for three reasons: they rarely commit acts of impropriety, give a voice to the voiceless, and ensure balance that is essential to democracy.
While the media exploits the few instances of conflict and misdeeds among lobbyists, they ignore the staggering majority of lobbyists who act in good faith to foster a strong democracy. According to the American Journal of Law (Fall 2006), fewer than one percent of lobbyists have committed any sort of crime or abused their power. Dishonesty is just not often a problem. While the press fixates on flashy stories such as the Jack Abramoff scandal, an overwhelming number of lobbyists are working to protect the rights of average Americans. To say that the thousands of people providing endless benefit to the American people should be stopped simply because of a few misfits in the system is ridiculous. The benefit that the many honest lobbyists provide outweighs the bad behavior of the less than one percent.
Second, once we get past the underwhelming minority of corrupt lobbyists, we can see that lobbyists give a voice to the voiceless. As the Journal of Political Behavior (May 2005) states, interest groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons and the National Education Association need lobbyists in order to be heard. With or without a lobbyist, the only way to get access to a legislator is with money, but the way to balance this system is to form interest groups that bring together resources of an underrepresented group and utilize lobbyists to ensure fairness in an inherently unfair system. Without the representation a lobbyist provides, we are leaving out the voices of organizations such as the American Cancer Society, as well as hundreds of other interest groups who would go unheard in the halls of power.
Finally, lobbyists provide balance to a legislative process by representing all sides of an issue as laws are being written. The Journal of Public Affairs (January 2003) argues that lobbyists provide information and expertise on all sides of an argument.
The question of gun control is one example: the National Rifle Association, or the NRA, is a famous and well-known interest group, and one might think they could overpower their opponents. The truth is that there are hundreds of interest groups that are strong supporters of gun control, including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Violence Policy Center, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Legislators take all that information, and decide what will best represent the American people, using the information from lobbyists.
Still, one might think that a group like the NRA has more money and thus more influence. But it defies common sense to think that legislators are not aware of the game lobbyists play. As Gene M. Grossman and Elhanan Helpman note in their book, Special Interest Politics, legislators participate in politics like players in a game. These players play to win, but they’re still affected by the game and need to play by the rules. When they know that lobbyists are attempting to use some sort of distortion, they alter their strategy to take that into account. Grossman and Helpman conclude that even though lobbyists act in good faith, when they do attempt to skew the playing field, Congress takes steps to combat this, ensuring fairness.
Lobbyists provide vital information that would otherwise be left out of the discussion when legislators make laws that govern America. How can we leave America out of lawmakers’ minds? The answer is, we can’t.
Published on teenink.com