Lobbyist Techniques

Legislative outcomes depend, in part, on lobbying.

Despite the outdated term, it still works: lobbying. The coined word comes from the old days when those who wanted to influence legislators would camp out in the lobbies of legislative buildings so they could pitch their piece. While nuances and major techniques may have changed in time, the objective remains the same – present information to affect legislation.

1 Basics

Political scientist John R. Wright, quoted in the book "Total Lobbying: What Lobbyists Want (and How They Try to Get It)," says that legislators have three main goals: 1) reelection, 2) good public policy and 3) influence within Congress (see Reference 2). Understanding this helps lobbyists know what techniques they should use when trying to persuade politicians that what they're lobbying for should be top political priority. For example, when considering the fact that public officials face a lot of uncertainty in their jobs that challenges their decision-making, lobbyists know to provide information about current public opinion. This, in turn, gives officials more insight and thus greater certainty, helping them make a decision that will influence public policy, their congressional influence and whether they get reelected.

2 Direct Techniques

In classic form, direct lobbying techniques exercise the in-your-face-but-not-too-much approach rooted in the effort's namesake. It means direct contact with public officials and deliberate effort to further the individual lobbyist's or group's goals. This contact may be in a more formal setting, such as at the office of a public official, or in court while testifying before congressional committees. Or it could be more relaxed by inviting public officials to dinner or cocktail parties, boating trips or anywhere where the official would feel more comfortable with an open mind. And true to classic form, lobbyists may look to chat about legislation right in the halls of Congress.

3 Indirect Techniques

An indirect strategy takes lobbyists away from legislator earshot and out to the general public with grassroots campaigns. The objective, though, is the same – to influence opinion. To influence public opinion, lobbyists and lobbyist groups may use social media campaigns, television publicity, newspaper and magazine advertisements and mass mailings to improve public image of the lobbied view. If successful, the public can then shape political action as politicians seek to please their constituents.

Another method, called the ratings system, works so that a legislator is ranked according to how he or she votes in Congress. Groups such as Americans for Democratic Action establish their own priorities and then rank legislators, on a scale from zero to 100, based on matching or mismatching priorities.

4 Money Talks

And then there's money. According to the book "GOVT," in the 2007 to 2008 presidential election season, political action committees (PACs) spent over $400 million in support of political campaigns, a total amount that includes money from lobbying special interest groups (see Reference 1). Even though throwing cash at a campaign doesn't guarantee that public officials will ultimately vote in the way lobbyists want, it does help put them toward the front of the priority line if an official they've supported gets elected.

  • 1 "GOVT"; Edward Sidlow, Beth Henschen; 2010
  • 2 "Total Lobbying: What Lobbyists Want (and How They Try to Get It)"; Anthony J. Nownes; 2006
  • 3 "American Government and Politics Today"; Barbara A. Bardes, Mack C. Shelley, Steffen W. Schmidt; 2008

Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."