A lobbyist gives information and opinions to legislators in order to get
a bill passed or defeated. The term derives from the act of gathering in a
lobby outside the legislative chamber.
Usually, a lobbyist works for a group or a client. They could examine,
for example, how a bill will affect the group. Lobbyists may be called upon
to explain to legislators how a new law will affect the interest they represent
in particular or the public in general.
So why does a legislator bother to listen to a lobbyist? Because hundreds
of bills and amendments are introduced in the legislature, some of which may
involve issues legislators may not be absolutely familiar with.
"Over an 80-day period, there may be 3,000 bills introduced," says Neill
Herring, a lobbyist in Georgia. Legislators don't have the time to research
each bill and its effect on the community, so the information lobbyists provide
can help them make an informed decision.
Lobbyists generally work on specific issues rather than broad policies.
They may help a group get a government supply contract, an industrial incentive
grant, a fisheries license or access to natural resources.
Some lobbyists spend every day monitoring government procedures and talking
with legislators. "But legislatures don't sit year-round," says Herring. "Ours
sits for two, 40-day periods." Lobbyist may work at the state or the federal
Properly used, lobbying can serve a useful purpose. Historically, however,
the process has been tainted by abuse of power.
"There's a lot of secrecy around this job," says Herring. Some lobbyists
have tried to bribe legislators to sway their opinions. Increasingly, legislators
in the U.S. have been regulated to avoid corruption in the system.
Some people who work in this business prefer to be called government relations
experts or legislative advocates because of the negative impression associated
with the word lobbyist.
Lobbyist Robert Metz is frank about the prevailing attitude towards the
profession. "It's going to become a profession in which you're hated as much
as a lawyer or a politician," he says. Because of this, lobbyists require
an incredible amount of confidence and emotional strength.
When the legislature is in session, lobbyists are in for long hours. They
work hard to meet with legislators as many times as possible. They also spend
time gathering facts and figures to change legislators' opinions.
Lobbying isn't a physically demanding job. A physical handicap should normally
not stop you from this career, but you will require good communication abilities
and a keen, analytical mind.