Lobbying Essay

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Lobbying refers to attempts  to influence policy decisions made by elected officials. The term originated in the political systems of the United States and United Kingdom during the 19th century when efforts to influence the votes of lawmakers were conducted  in the entrance hall (or “lobby”) of parliamentary chambers. In business, lobbying is an example of a nonmarket strategy. While market strategies involve decisions such as product  positioning  and pricing, nonmarket strategies  are actions taken by individuals, firms, or special interest groups to influence the political, regulatory, and social environments in which they operate. Some companies and industries have found that lobbying is a crucial aspect of their business, and recent studies have shown that lobbying can effectively influence policy outcomes.

Different Types Of Lobbyists

Different kinds of business actors lobby political decision makers. Individual businessmen and women, for example, can be important s  for elected officials. In France, leading business and political figures commonly  make informal  s  with each other during their studies at elite graduate schools. Later in life, business leaders can use these s  to voice their policy preferences to government  and administrative representatives.

Individual firms—especially large ones—can also participate  in lobbying and  public policy advocacy. Google provides a case in point: with a staff of 12 lobbyists  including  former  communications directors, speechwriters, and policy advisers of the Clinton administration, Google has built a substantial  presence in Washington.

If managers  lack the time, resources,  or s to influence public policy decisions themselves, they may delegate the task to an outside lobbyist. For instance,  when it made its controversial  bid to take over the U.S. petroleum company Unocal in 2005, the China National Offshore Company hired the services of the Washington-based lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer  & Feld to establish relationships  and set up meetings with lawmakers.

In some cases, individual companies may feel they have a better chance to influence policy if they lobby as part of a wider group: In this instance,  they may join professional associations. Germany, for example, has a dense network  of special interest  groups  that are organized around specific industrial sectors (such as the German Association of the Automotive Industry),  products  (including  the  Association  of Cigarette Manufacturers),  or markets (such as the Federal Association of Exporting Companies). These groups maintain  political offices in Berlin, establish  strong connections  with officials in the powerful Economics Ministry, and use these to influence policy so that it meets their members’ specific requirements.

When  attempting  to influence general laws, trade associations and individual companies may form nationwide employers’ associations. One such example is the U.S. Chamber  of Commerce,  whose 300 policy experts,  lawyers, and  communicators represent   the interests  of over three  million businesses of all sizes and sectors, hundreds of trade associations, thousands of local Chambers, and more than a hundred American Chambers of Commerce around the world. In the UK, the Confederation  of British Industry (CBI) promotes the general interests of British business by contributing to debates on over 80 policy issues.

As business  has become  increasingly  globalized, supranational   associations  have  emerged  to  represent the interests  of the business community  above the nation-state level. For example, with the increasing number of economic directives introduced by the European  Commission,  it  is estimated  that  15,000 business lobbyists are now active in Brussels. Some, such  as Business Europe  and  the  European  Roundtable  of Industrialists,  represent  private  employers at the  interprofessional  level. Others,  including  the European  Federation  of  Pharmaceutical   Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and the Committee of Professional Agricultural  Organisations  (COPA), represent the interests of specific industries.

Companies,  organizations,  and  private  citizens can lobby policy makers  in numerous  ways. More than  one  method  is frequently  used  concurrently. Lobbyists and policy makers  may meet  informally. In the United States, lobbyists can legally invite policy makers out for dinner, to concerts  and sporting events, and even on trips. For example, when Starbucks began lobbying in Washington,  it flew members of Congress to its Seattle headquarters to introduce them to the company and educate them on its strategy and the coffee industry.

Another  way of lobbying is to participate  in formal  meetings  with  policy makers.  In  some  countries, governments  establish advisory committees  to gain private-sector  input on policy issues. France, for example, has developed an extensive network of consultative organs, including the Economic and Social Council, designed to elicit advice and acquiescence from trade associations.

Companies  often  also  use  written  communications to convey a particular point of view. In this way, Microsoft found letter-writing campaigns to be a useful form of advocacy when several states sued it for anticompetitive   behavior.  Lobbyists  are  now  more than ever using the media to articulate their interests and influence public opinion so that it is sympathetic with their  causes. The internet  also provides  lobby groups with a powerful tool for attracting  the attention  of specific target  audiences  and increasing  the visibility of their specific concerns.

The Influence Of Lobby Groups

Not  all lobby groups  have the  same influence  over policy makers; their ability to shape policy outcomes depends on both internal and external factors. Internally, lobby-group influence depends on financial resources, knowledge, and membership structures. In essence, groups are better placed to influence policy makers if they have large financial resources to fund their  lobbying  activities,  if they  possess  the  often highly technical  expertise  required  by government officials to make policy, and if they possess a homogenous  membership  whose similar interests  make it easier to reach common policy positions.

A major external  factor affecting the influence of lobby groups is the structure  of the political system in which they operate.  In so-called corporatist  systems (such as Austria, Germany, and Sweden), interest groups are guaranteed  a voice in systems of institutionalized  policy making: the representatives  of employer and employee organizations  are invited to participate in negotiations with state officials to reach agreements on policy issues and gain responsibilities for securing compliance with decisions.

Other  countries  (such as the United States or the United Kingdom) do not have such institutionalized lobbying practices. In these pluralist systems, power is  more  widely distributed   among  many  autonomous lobby groups, each representing  the social and economic  forces in the wider society. These groups compete  against each other  to gain the attention  of policy makers. The greater the organized opposition to a lobby group’s policy demands,  the  weaker its ability to shape policy outcomes to the advantage of its members.

The acceptance of lobbying varies across countries. In the United States and the United Kingdom, lobbying has long tended  to be considered  as a legitimate aspect of the political process. In continental  European countries,  however, seeking to influence policy makers  tends  to generate  largely negative connotations: Lobbying is seen as an opaque practice, giving an unfair advantage to those who can afford to carry it out. In response  to these concerns,  the European Commission  launched  an initiative in 2005 to make lobbying in Brussels more transparent.

Bibliography:   

  1. Gary Andres,  Lobbying  Reconsidered: Under  the  Influence  (Pearson/Longman,  2009);
  2. Council of Europe, Corruption and Democracy: Political Finances, Conflicts of Interest, Lobbying, Justice (Council of Europe, 2008);
  3. Andreas Dürr and Dirk de Bièvre, “The Question of Interest Group Influence,” Journal of Public Policy (v.27/1, 2007);
  4. Justin Greenwood,  Interest  Representation  in  the European Union (Palgrave Macmillan,  2007);
  5. Scott Kennedy, The Business of Lobbying in China (Harvard University Press, 2008);
  6. Christine Mahoney, Brussels Versus the Beltway: Advocacy in the United States and the European Union (Georgetown University Press, 2008);
  7. Alan L. Moss, Selling Out America’s Democracy: How Lobbyists, Special Interests, and Campaign Financing Undermine the Will of the People (Praeger, 2008);
  8. Anthony Nownes, Pressure and Power: Organized Interest in American Politics (Houghton Mifflin, 2001);
  9. Felix Oberholzer-Gee, Libby Cantrill,  and Patricia Wu, Lobbying (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2007);
  10. Cornelia Woll, Firm Interests: How Governments Shape Business Lobbying on Global Trade, Cornell Studies in Political Economy (Cornell University Press, 2008).

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