Lobbies

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  • •There are currently more than 12,000 national organizations, any one of which is a potential lobby at some level of government. Roughly 2,900 are trade, business, or commercial associations; 1,016 are medical or health societies; more than 800 are concerned with education; 700 others are organized for religious purposes. They run across the alphabet from the Abrasive Grain Association to the Zionist Organization of America. They embrace the Boy Scouts of America, the Little League, and Zero Population Growth. They represent a sharp increase in number from the approximately 500 in 1929, 4,000 in 1949, and 7,400 in 1961.
  • •In addition there are countless thousands of local and state organizations, some permanent and others shortlived. Many of them are affiliates of national groups, but a substantial number are independent or regional in character. A recent estimate lists nearly 100,000 labor-union locals, 150,000 women’s organizations, and some 30,000 civic associations in this category, but any tally is at best a guess.
  • •Since 1946 more than 12,000 separate lobbies or individual lobbyists have registered with Congress. Because of loopholes in the law (major corporations, for example, are not necessarily required to register) and because annual registration is not mandatory, it is impossible to determine the exact number of persons or groups seeking to influence federal legislation at the present time. No registration figures have ever been compiled for state or local lobbyists, although the bulk of lobbying efforts probably take place at those levels.
  • • According to figures supplied by the Congressional Quarterly Service, a private research organization based in Washington, lobbies have reported spending more than $148.9 million since 1946 on the federal level. (This total does not include funds used in political campaigns or other expenditures not required by law to be listed with Congress.)
  • •In the last full year for which figures are available (1973), the Congressional Quarterly reports that lobbies spent more than $9.4 million in Washington. This is the largest annual total since 1949, when $10.3 million was reported, and is double the 1967 figure of $4.7 million. Large as it may seem, the total, Congressional Quarterly Service cautions, “represents only a fraction of the actual spending by groups. …” The language of the federal lobbying law is so vague that some lobbies need file only a portion of their expenses, and “many organizations … avoid filing reports altogether,” although they maintain large liaison staffs in Washington. The reason: lobbying is not the corporation’s principal purpose, and thus the registration law does not apply.
  • •A breakdown by lobbying categories of the reported expenditures in 1973, again according to the Congressional Quarterly, shows The largest single spender was Common Cause—the selfstyled “citizens’lobby”—at $934,835. Second was the United Auto Workers with $460,992.
  • •Since 1938 more than 400 individuals, law firms, and public-relations agencies have registered with the Justice Department as agents of foreign governments in the United States—principally on trade and tariff matters but, in effect, for any lawful service their clients may require. The current number of such agents is not available, according to the Congressional Quarterly Service, because the department no longer provides lists of registrants to the public and no longer reports the funds spent by such agents on lobbying.

Here then are Madison’s “contending interests and local jealousies” as a major force in the legislative process of the United States. One estimate, for example, suggests that there are at least twenty active lobbyists for every member of Congress in Washington at the present time. What they seek to provide is professionalism, organization, and expertise in lawmaking to the special benefit of the interests they represent.

But contrary to the popular stereotype—reflected in such derogatory labels as “five-percenter,” “influence peddler,” and the nineteenth-century term “boodler”—the contemporary lobbyists are generally not shadowy figures oiling the legislative machinery with bribes of money, liquor, and sex. (There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but the risks and penalties of exposure are considerably greater now than they were a century ago, when such practices were widespread.) In recent years, for example, a number of distinguished public figures (or their law firms) have registered as lobbyists, including Dean Acheson, Thomas Dewey, Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., Abe Portas, Arthur J. Goldberg, George Romney, and Richard Nixon. In 1947 Sam Ervin served for one day as a registered lobbyist—without compensation—on behalf of a southern railroad. And over the past twenty-eight years more than seventy members of the House and about twenty senators have turned to lobbying once their terms in Congress have expired.

This is not to suggest that evils do not lurk in current lobbying practices; it is merely to point out that they have an element of polish or sophistication that was not there in the past. Like modern business, the lobbies have learned a great deal from modern advertising and public-relations techniques. No longer merely manipulators of patronage and wire-pullers as lobbyists have always been, they are now propagandists, attempting often to win the support not only of legislators but of the public as well.