Lobbying is a word used to describe the act of asking someone who is in a position of influence to introduce or amend policies in your favour. The U.S. First Amendment describes it as, the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Clearly, lobbying can occur without any money or favour being involved.
If you write to a politician to put your case, you have been lobbying.
Bribing is different in that an exchange or promise of an exchange of value occurs in exchange for an official action. The item of value need not be money. It could be a return of favours. It could be campaign assistance. It could be specialist advice. Even politicians lobby: “You vote for us and we will vote for you.”
Lobbyists can help ensure that the politicians who support their interests get elected. Those politicians would favour their clients even if they didn’t receive a dollar or a single action of support.
We must also consider lobbying companies. Spending copious money to impress politicians can appear to fall outside of the definition of bribery as there is no direct gain to the politician. Lobbying backed by intense spending is a type of soft bribery. A politician operating in a mental vacuum, will relish the thought processes that get him re-elected or well regarded by others.
Let us look at the lobbyist industry. In the absence of Australian information, we look at the industry in the U.S. In 2019, around twelve thousand registered professionals helped clients spend over $3.5 billion. One study reports that for every dollar spent on lobbying and campaign contributions, a corporation can receive up to $760 from the government. The ability to influence policy is in the favour of those with unlimited financial resources. The lobbyists excuse is that without their in-depth expertise, lawmakers wouldn’t be able to do their job effectively.
This leads people to an expected conclusion that lobbying is legalised corruption.
We clearly need to distinguish between lobbying and bribing. Every person has the right, without having to spend any money, to approach a politician or the government to request changes to laws and regulations. Not everybody has the time, nor the ability to do it efficiently and effectively. There are people and companies that will do it on their behalf. These people are professional lobbyists.
It is somewhat like the engagement of lawyers. We pay a lobbyist to argue politics to government, whilst we pay a lawyer to argue laws in a court. The lobbyist is paid for their time and expertise.
What has happend is that ‘Capitalists’ have arranged that money speaks louder than the voter. As soon as you have one lobbyist, that lobbyist has more power than all of the voters put together. I often give this example:
If we arrange for you to become a politician, when you get into the party, you don’t get to vote on the policies of the party. You have to ‘tow the party line’. Who then decides the policies of the party, if it is not the voters and not the politicians?
Here comes the magnitude of the lobbying issue. Is it is okay for corporate to influence policy by financing political parties? Elections become investments for corporations. We have developed a system of government in which ‘lawfully’ elected representatives operate the nation state on behalf of the citizens, where the citizens, whilst having the right to vote, have no participation in the decision-making process of the government. Some call this a “Totalitarian Democracy”. We could allow the corporations to write legislation directly.
public wants very much to NOT think of our government as being corrupt and dishonest. We work at it very hard by accepting all kinds of misdirections, spins, and misleading words that make it easier for us to deny the truth. These efforts are remarkably effective precisely because we WANT to believe them – as evidenced by the other answers you got that say that there is no bribery.
We don’t say a politician is lying, we allow him to say, he misspoke or was taken out of context or that he was joking. He was, of course, lying but we would like to not think that they do that so we give it some other name. We call them alternate facts, Post-Truth, or my favorite, ”imaginative creativity” – anything other than “lying”.
The citizenry does not want to believe that bribes are a common occurrence. We like to believe that our nation is above this ‘third world corruption’. The reality is that bribes are deeply embedded in our system of government. To avoid damaging our sense of pride in our nation, we simply avoid using the ‘word’. We use terms such as “campaign donations” or “access fees” or “influence peddling” or other euphemisms. They are bribes by another name. Corporations ‘invest’ in lobby efforts. A university study found that for every $1 “invested” in “campaign donations” by corporations, they received, on average, $11 in benefits> The benefits included lower taxation, reduced regulations and other benefits. Some industries can claim a 1500 to one return on investment. Lobbying becomes the most profitable investment that any company can make.
These lobbyists can be very helpful to the ‘overworked’ politician. The corporation will write the legislation on behalf of the politician. It is estimated that well over half of all the legislation passed by government was written by special interest groups related to the legislation. It is believed that all of the prescription drug laws have been written by the lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry.
When challenged with the suggestion that these payments are bribes, the politicians duck for cover and react like someone had insulted their mother. You can forget ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’. That is fairy-tale politics.
We might consider that the vacuous politician is devoid of expertise on a subject, so he must learn about that which he is about to make decisions. To whom does he turn? He must turn to some source. We can argue that there is equal opportunity in lobbying. Regulatory capture by kinship interests is arguably worse than corporate regulatory capture. But equally valid is that both are bad. We must trust our politicians to chose their legislative behaviour sensibly. Lobbying rightly involves the transfer of information without the transfer of any form of gain for the politician. Even non-profits employ lobbyists on their staff to present their issues.
However, the nature of corporations gives them great influence over government. We need to address the economic, environmental, political and social harms caused by corporate constitutional rights.
Perhaps have a read of: