Whether lobbyists work for a large organization, a private individual, or the general public, their goals and strategies are the same. First and foremost, lobbyists must be adept at the art of persuasion, which is the mainstay of their job. They must figure out how to sway politicians to vote on legislation in a way that favors the interest they represent. This means tailoring appeals to specific individuals as well as to group voting blocs, such as Southerners or pro-choicers. Lobbyists also occasionally lobby one another. When normally opposing groups find a common area of interest and can present a united front they are extremely effective.
Lobbying can be direct or indirect. Direct lobbying means actually meeting with congressmen and providing them with information pertinent to a bill being voted on. The lobbyist imparts her information with the help of graphs, charts, polls, and reports that she has hunted up or created. Needless to say, this is usually information that the politician might not otherwise have access to, that casts the matter in a light favorable to the interest the lobbyist represents. Sometimes, lobbyists will even sit down and help a politician draft legislation that is advantageous for their interest.
Maintaining good relations with politicians who can be relied on to support the lobbyist’s interest is key. While lobbyists and their employers cannot themselves make large campaign donations to politicians, they can, and do, raise money from other sources for reelection campaigns. To be successful at all of this, the lobbyist must be well-informed, persuasive, and self-confident. Personal charm doesn’t hurt either, and lobbyists will often do social things like host cocktail parties, which allow them to interact with politicians-and opponents-in a less formal atmosphere.
Indirect lobbying, sometimes referred to as grassroots organizing, is a bit less glamorous. Grassroots lobbyists enlist the help of the community to influence politicians by writing, calling, or demonstrating on the organization’s behalf. This means long hours spent on the phone and writing letters, trying to rouse the community to get involved. These lobbyists also report to politicians about the concerns and reactions they have gotten from community members. Indirect lobbying is also done through the media. Grassroots lobbyists write articles for newspapers and magazines and appear on talk shows to generate interest in and awareness of their issues.
Lobbyists tend to work long hours-between forty and eighty hours per week is normal, and when a bill is up for vote they will usually work through at least one night. But the least attractive part of being a lobbyist may be the profession’s less-than-spotless reputation. While most are undoubtedly scrupulous, some lobbyists have been known to grease a palm or two where persuasion falls short, and the rest must suffer the public’s mistrust. These honest lobbyists, who represent every segment of society, take refuge in the knowledge that they are working to promote causes they believe in.
Lobbying is a profession full of people who have changed careers, since relevant knowledge and experience are all you really need to become a lobbyist. There are no licensing or certification requirements, but lobbyists are required to register with the state and federal governments. Most lobbyists have college degrees. A major in political science, journalism, law, communications, public relations, or economics should stand future lobbyists in good stead. While you’re still in college you can check out the terrain through various government-related internships-as a congressional aide, in a government agency, or with a lobbying firm, for example. Any of these positions will give you a look at the role of lobbying in the political system. After college the same holds-working in a government or political office, especially as a congressional aide, takes you to the front lines, but it may also be useful to start out in a law or public relations firm.
Many lobbyists also come from careers as legislators, as former politicians often capitalize on their years of government service and their connections to old pals still in office. This is the “revolving door” that recent legislation has begun to regulate (see “Past and Future”). Indeed, networking is the name of the game in lobbying, where people are hired as much for who they know as what they know. Someone who can schmooze at high levels will start his lobbying career from an accordingly high perch, while others face a long hard climb upwards. While there is no hierarchy of seniority as in corporations, this also means that there is no ceiling for those who do well.
Primarily, the lobbyist works with legislators and aides, both of which are career options for former lobbyists, with their inside knowledge of the political system. Public relations is also a natural choice, since packaging and communicating messages is the lobbyist’s primary skill. Advertising, journalism, and teaching are also good outlets for the lobbyist’s energy and talents.