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What They Do

Insider Info

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 level.

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.

At a Glance

Give information to legislators in order to get a bill passed or defeated

  • Lobbyists generally work on specific issues rather than broad policies
  • You have to keep close tabs on what's happening in the legislature
  • A law degree is a good educational base