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