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What Kind of Influence Do Lobbyists Have, and Do You Think It’s Fair?

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Lobbyists get paid to convince lawmakers to pass or oppose laws and other policies on behalf of their clients. Lobbying is protected by the First Amendment, and anyone can do it. In reality, 95% of lobbying in the United States is done on behalf of big business. But not all lobbying is about money. Other “currency” includes relationships and connections. If you’re still wondering how it all works, watch the video, then let us know: What kind of influence do lobbyists have, and do you think it’s fair?

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. Click to see this video and lesson plan on KQED Learn.

What are lobbyists?

Lobbyists get paid to try to convince lawmakers to adopt or oppose policies on behalf of their clients. There are thousands of different groups that have lobbyists either working directly for them or hiring lobbyists from lobbying firms. And these groups can range from big corporations and trade associations to public interest nonprofits.

Are lobbyists bad?


Lobbying is generally thought of as a fundamental right guaranteed by the first amendment in the constitution as the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. At its core, lobbying is just a way for citizens to engage with lawmakers on important issues. Most of the critiques around lobbying have to do with how money is involved. It’s really expensive to run a political campaign, and one way that lobbyists can get facetime to talk to politicians is to throw big fundraisers for them, and lobbyists themselves can actually donate to political campaigns. And most of the biggest spenders on lobbying represent business interests. This raises equity issues about what types of organizations can afford to hire lobbyists and ultimately whose voices influence policy.

How does lobbying work?

A lot of lobbying is building relationships with politicians and finding out who has the interest and power to help with your cause. And money isn’t the only currency in lobbying, politicians also pay attention to how many people are calling their offices and care about an issue, and how many people are sending emails or writing notes about an issue. Getting facetime with politicians and their trusted advisors is extremely important when it comes to lobbying.

Do lobbyists for non-corporate causes ever win?

Yes, even though corporate interests outspend public interest groups– lobbying can still work to bring about change that isn’t necessarily pro-business. For example, The Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit successfully lobbied for congress to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is a pot of money reserved for conservation efforts to offset environmental damages caused by the oil and gas industry.



This interactive exhibit from the National Museum of American History explains how lobbying works and how it influences the legislative process. 

How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy  

This article from The Atlantic explains how lobbyists influence politicians and how this process has consequences for American democracy. 

Gold-Level Clubs for Lobbyists  

This article from Politico explains how politicians are putting a price tag on access through campaign clubs that lobbyists and other donors must pay to join.  

Top Spenders on Lobbying 2021 

This list from the website Open Secrets shows how much each industry lobbying group spent in 2021. 

Midterm Election Spending 

This list from the website Open Secrets shows how much each industry lobbying group has spent on the midterm elections. 

Big Pharma Went All In to Kill Drug Price Negotiations  

This article from Kaiser Health News reports about how major pharmaceutical companies opposed drug pricing negotiations. 

Testing Theories of American Politics 

This scholarly article concludes that lobbying and other corporate interests have an outsized influence on American politics compared to individuals or the general voting public.


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