Is Lobbying Destroying Democracy in America?

Lobbying and The American Political System

Lobbying is known to be one of the most important components of the American political system. This is largely due to the fact that this phenomenon is carried out by means of the practical cooperation between the authorities, society and business in the US. The fact is that the financial capacity of lobbyist structures operates powerful “market thinking” of America, which is one of its global benefits. Thus, through the US lobbying tools, it becomes possible to get such a massive range of quality solutions of state policies that make this country the owner of all of the key scenarios of national and international development. Lobbying puts the USA in a favorable position in all the other countries of the world. Therefore, the role of lobbying activities is to solve the problem(s) of different interest groups. In recent decades in the United States, the role of lobbying has been steadily and strongly increasing. Moreover, the discussions about the essence of this phenomenon have a tendency to bear the ambiguous character.

Legislation and political culture of America make it almost impossible to promote a special interest without the development of ideas about how this interest is associated with the public good. In the US, a lobbyist cannot gain support of the legislator, for example, companies from the defense industry, or some certain areas of medicine. A lobbyist has to clearly communicate the company or product’s national security, high-tech development, job creation and other concepts understandable to the public. In this situation, professional intermediaries, lobbyists, have to address American intellectuals, develop market intelligence, express ideas and present expertise, as well as represent legitimating special interests of their customers. Usually, a lobbyist is not a generator of a “Big Idea”, which will then be promoted, as he predominantly advocates private interests, which complement the already existing idea elaborated by intellectuals, and then actively uses it.

Thus, this paper is aimed at construing lobbying as a political and legal phenomenon, analyzing its social value and the specifics of its functioning in the United States. Lobbying is an essential attribute of the political life of any democratic society in favor of political and legal phenomena. This approach may help to answer the question whether lobbying destroys American democracy or not. In order to prove the assumption that lobbying does not perform a destructive function for the US democracy, it is necessary to provide to the main aspects investigated in the paper. Thus, first and foremost, the paper elucidates the meaning of lobbying and its essential particularities in the political structure of the USA. Secondly, it classifies lobbying, showing the possible areas of lobbyists’ expertise and their means of influence. Finally, the paper inquires into the nature of impact lobbying process produces on democracy in America. All these steps lead to the proof of the statement that lobbying is the necessary element of the US democracy, serving as the “fifth element” of power in the USA.

What is Lobbying?

As the experience of all countries with the democratic rule of law shows, along with the representation of citizens and territories, the system of interest representation has been established and sufficiently developed there. Different regulatory agencies are closely interconnected with each other and only in their entirety solve the problem of adequate interaction between civil society and government relationships. In modern democratic societies, there are many different voluntary associations of people (interest groups), which seek to express their demands to the authorities (Sicakkan 12). Some of them use economic levers, while activities of others are less evident in the corridors of power.

The most common form of exposure of these organized (interest) groups to the authorities is lobbying. In the developed Western countries, lobbyists are known to be highly qualified specialists, who are able to collect the necessary information and to persuade the authorities to take action in favor of groups whose interests they represent. Lobbyists often perform the role of intermediaries in various transactions between interest groups and politicians (Scheer, Beladi, and Scheer 111). These actors also include lawmakers and members of the Government; thereby, they exert significant influence on the political course of the country. Thus, lobbying is an actual component in the mechanism of functioning of such modern democratic country as the USA.

The term comes from Medieval Latin “laubia, lobia”, which means a “covered walk in a monastery”. It was further transformed into the English word “lobby,” which means hallway, passageway, or corridor. Sicakkan (9) rightly believed that social harmony in governance is achieved through mediation of the groups and their representatives, which are allocated by competing elites. Lobbying, as a political phenomenon of management, was described by Hobbes and Jean Rousseau, who drew attention to its impact on the process of political decision-making of private interests (Scheer, Beladi, and Scheer 85). In addition to this, they tended to attach a negative meaning to this phenomenon. Similar opinions were defended later. The 28th US President Woodrow Wilson, for instance, believed that the US government is “a child receiving special interests.”

Lobbying is a term that denotes an extensive system of offices and agencies of the monopolies or organized groups in the legislature. These regulatory agencies put pressure (involving even bribe) on the legislators and bureaucrats in order for them to make decisions, pass certain bills, obtain government contracts or grants, as well as represent interests of their organizations (Sicakkan 11). The very word, “lobbying”, is ambiguously assessed by public opinion, as it has a legal meaning and a “shadow” one.

“Shadow Lobbying”

The so-called “shadow lobbying” usually carries a completely negative connotation, as it is often synonymous with “protection” and “bribery” related to vote buying or another act carried out in someone’s selfish interests to the detriment of the interests of others, mainly of the public (Scheer, Beladi, and Scheer 102). The extreme expression of the negative lobbying can place illegal pressure on the authorities, resulting in bribery and corruption, by means of which management decisions in the interests of certain groups or individuals are accepted. The negative attitude towards lobbying was formed as a consequence of such practices of “influence” on management decisions. Certainly, it is only one side of the coin, showing not only strengths and capabilities of different social structures, but also vulnerable, weak “points” of the power.

If to view a positive meaning of lobbying, it is characterized by healthy, normal, and vital phenomena, acting as an institution involved in the democratic process. Lobbying is to be regarded as an integral element of society, signifying a system of organizational design, expression and representation of interests of diverse groups. In addition, it denotes the presence of various interest groups, each of which is aggressively seeking to attract the attention of the authorities.

Lobbying, in this meaning, is a form of legal effect of “pressure groups” on the management of public bodies’ decisions. It is necessary in order to meet the interests of certain social structures (organizations, associations, territorial entities, sectors of society, etc.), which are tightly linked to political power.

Lobbying is a kind of sign of power, its specific feature – “the mark.” Conversely, it does not occur, where there is no power or where it merely acts as a nominal force (Scheer, Beladi, and Scheer 96). As a full-fledged institution, lobbying occurs when there are already two necessary conditions: there is a great diversity of interests in society as a consequence of its social differentiation, stratification, “specialization,” as well as expanding access to power on the basis of political pluralism, which is typical primarily for democratic regimes.

Types of Lobbying and their Functions

The most widely used form of lobbying activities in the US – with a political connotation – appeared in the nineteenth century. At that time, the ministers and senators in hotel lobbies, where they rested, often met with different people, listened to their requests and were not disinterested in money to fulfill their promises (Mintzberg 39). Thus, the term “lobbying” appeared to refer to buying votes with money. In England, such a policy has long been considered reprehensible. Thus, the word entered the lexical fund only in the twentieth century, and later other countries borrowed it.

There are advanced material structures for the most effective implementation of the objectives of lobbying in the United States (Sicakkan 7). First, almost all large corporations, business associations, professional associations, public and various specialized organizations involve special lobbying division activities, numbering up to several tens or even hundreds of people (usually, these are former advisers, senators, ministers, government officials, lawyers, and other professionals with strong communication skills and the relevant quality of education) (Sicakkan 5). Second, interest groups, especially the monopolies, actively use the services of hired lobbyists, as they are legally influential in advocacy and counseling (professional lobby), being actors of the company or its leading employees (Sqapi). Finally, entrepreneurial, professional or public organizations have a constant need in lobbying appointment.

Conditionally, depending on the branch of government that solved the problem, lobbying can be distinguished as legislative, executive and judicial. There is also media lobbying, which has powerful influence on the minds and behavior of people in politics (Mintzberg 78). Media are reasonably believed to be the “fourth branch of government.” In a similar way, the process of lobbying in the United States is rather a prestigious type of activity, which is frequently called as the “fifth branch of government.”

Depending on the nature of management of decisions achieved by the lobbying purpose, it can be divided into law-making lobbying (in the legislature through the regulations), enforcement lobbying (through acts of law), and lobbying through acts of interpretation of law. Depending on the nature of interest that is “pressed,” scholars are likely to distinguish the political, social, economic, financial, legal and other types of lobbying (Sqapi). Depending on the time of action, there are two types of lobbying, namely “disposable” and constant ones. Depending on what level of power goes to the lobby, it can be classified on the federal (carried out in the system of the supreme bodies of state power and administration) and local (carried out in the republic, territorial, regional bodies) levels. There are different kinds of lobbying, depending on the type of benefit it may gain after solving the problem (Mintzberg 132). Lobbying of various social structures includes social organizations, movements, parties, groups, and quarters of society (trade unions, anti-war and environmental movements, business associations, etc.).

For example, in the US, senior citizens are united into associations to protect their rights. Lobbying activities are usually carried out in Congress, organizing the company in favor of or against those or other measures affecting them (Sqapi). Departmental lobbying is carried out in ministries, state committees, branch “punching” of certain interests. Regional lobbying defines the impact on the power on the part of representatives of republics, territories, regions, districts, aiming to gain certain benefits and advantages for particular regions. Foreign lobbying refers to the impact of foreign “pressure groups” or national communities on certain public authorities in order to obtain the necessary decisions from them. Thus, a significant place in the structure of American society is occupied by lobbies – Jewish, Polish, Arabic and others (Mintzberg 12). All of them, to the best of their abilities, try to promote the interests of national communities and countries, which they are originally from.

Lobbying and the US Democracy

The most effective levers at the same time are money, media, and voters, which are so-called refiners of influence.
The phenomenon of lobbying in American politics has started to play an especially prominent role in recent decades. This is largely due to the adoption of the federal law regulating the costs of election campaigns. By setting limits for individual and collective donors (political action committees – PACs play the dominant role among the last) campaign on financial donations to individual candidates and parties, the law has transformed the efficiency of the main channel of financing of election campaigns (Sqapi). Therefore, it is not surprising that the rapid growth of efficiency began in the country; not only corporations and unions were created, but also a variety of associations representing primarily the interests of the middle class. There were about 4 thousand associations recorded in the mid-1990s. PACs became 6.5 times higher than they were in 1974, for instance (Werner 182).

The system of functional representation and lobbying continues to evolve. In some countries, especially in Scandinavia, Austria and Australia, the number of participants has been increased by environmentalists, consumers, and other influential interest groups. Its viability is confirmed by the experience of recent decades, which is rooted in the system of Western public relations, being no less than the party and parliamentary representation. Confirmation of this (?) has notably intensified the role of informal contacts between the interest groups and the government in the framework of the same system of representation of interests.

The most common lobbying consists of various forms and methods of business impact of different community groups on representatives of the legislative and executive powers aimed to make them take favorable decisions. Certainly, lobbying is practiced in the framework of formal structures, while informal relations have consulted the place, the purpose of which is not confined to short-term extraction of profits for a particular interest group. However, the lion’s share of lobbying is still implemented informally, being “free” from the institutional and procedural constraints. Being only a part of the function of representation, lobbying bears its appropriate share of positive load (Bausch 444). It is equally necessary for those who are directly affected by decisions of state bodies, and for the latter. By providing valuable information about the real situation and the possible consequences of the measures taken, lobbying creates a more secure basis for them, helping to avoid erroneous and hasty steps.

At the same time, it contributes to the perception of those who improve the “quality” of public administration. The main negative aspects and consequences of lobbying are that many of its members intend to achieve selfish aspirations, creating a breeding ground for possible corruption and abuse (Werner 181). This simultaneously stimulates the growth of lobbying practice, and increases a range of tools that can limit this kind of pretensions. One of those tools is a rigid legal regulation of lobbying that expands the range of its participants and promotes competition between them. It also increases professionalism and requirements for the professional ethics of civil servants and members of representative institutions, improving the mechanism of lobbying.

Since the vast majority of lobbying activities is carried out for business purposes, it is rational to focus on its mechanism in this environment. One significant innovation in this sphere was the creation of large corporations within the management structures (Mintzberg 64). They were generally referred to as public relations departments in charge of the whole complex of political relations, and, in the first place, of public authorities at central and local levels (Bausch 435). The department functions primarily include the identification of political, social and economic priorities of the company’s collection of information, development of reasoned requests and requirements of the authorities as well as the establishment of contacts and consultations with them.

In critical cases, this activity involves the president, and other senior officials. One of the rules of communication with the authorities is provision of exhaustive information on the motives and the possible consequences of the proposed solutions (Mendieta 207). When the interests of a few companies are the same, they embody a kind of coalition, acting according to the agreed program.

Since the practice of lobbying is the most widely developed in the United States, many large corporations have offices in Washington. Another center for attraction of lobbyists, which is becoming stronger, is the “capital” of the European Community Brussels, where there are about 700 representatives of European firms (Mendieta 209). Having obtained all the necessary information from the Administration of the company, lobbyists are in constant contact with legislators and officials in order to determine their intentions in the firm’s areas of interest.

There is a special lobbying apparatus that allows businesses and business organizations not only to influence the legislative and executive power in the right direction, but also to timely and adequately respond to changes in government policy (Werner 181-182). One of the important innovations in the business of lobbying system is to attract participation in the activities of the staff, shareholders and other parties interested in the prosperity of the company (Mendieta 207). This kind of “grass roots” lobbying is carried out in the form of campaigns, petitions and other pressure activities aimed to support the requirements of one or, more often, several related companies.

Thus, any business usually intercepts at various kinds of mass organizations and movements of their methods of influence on the authorities. Although the scope of these activities is relatively modest, the fact is that they are both supported by different lobbying channels as described above, and have a clearer direction address, providing a very high effectiveness. It is noteworthy that the business of direct representation system is also used by industries and firms owned by the state and connected with influential authorities, power purely administrative ties. Naturally, these trends stimulate further growth of the independence of such companies, and, in fact, instigate their “creeping” privatization.

National or sectoral associations play a considerable role in the process of lobbying for entrepreneurial organizations. Their efforts focus mainly on issues of a general nature rather on legislative or administrative matters (“Lobbying America: The Politics of Business From Nixon to NAFTA”). The unique ability of these businesses is to combine a variety of ways of influencing the legislative and executive authorities, as well as the advantages of its position of the dominant economic strata, creating a balance between different social and political forces (Bausch 437). Hence, the inevitable conflict in the system of functional representation lies in its inherent fluidity, changeability and dynamism (Werner 181). The balance of forces in the system, which has been developed to date in the West, is not standard either for themselves, or, especially for countries, which, being in a fundamentally different political situation, apparently intend to lay its foundations.

Nevertheless, the accumulated experience of the West, especially in terms of the forms and the general parameters of the established systems, can facilitate the creation of modern, responsible democratic principles of interaction mechanisms of organized interests and the state, where they are just beginning to take shape.


After considering lobbying as an ambiguous political and legal phenomenon, it becomes possible to make a number of important conclusions. Firstly, the nature of lobbying is to encourage interest groups to address legislators and other officials in order to make profitable decisions for these groups. The circle of the lobbying objects depends on the country’s norms and political practices. Secondly, lobbying has a contradictory effect on society and the state. On the one hand, it promotes the “recovery” of society due to the constant interaction between the state and civil society, and, accordingly, aligns their interests. On the other hand, it could lead to a criminal state, defending narrow group interests and, at the same time, disturbing stability in society.

To some extent, the negative effects of lobbying can be reduced by the legal regulation of this activity. However, lobbying allows dialog between interest groups and the state to improve the quality of decision-making bodies of the executive branch and ensure equal rights for social groups to exercise influence on the process of public policy. Having regarded all the particularities and pros and cons of lobbying in the USA, it can be stated that its very process does not destroy democracy. This is determined by the fact that lobbying institution supports democracy functioning due to the constant flow of financial assets, which are accumulated from the problem-solving process. Furthermore, the ideas, which are regarded by means of lobbying, are predominantly positive and successful – hence, they do not harm democracy. Finally, political regimes of numerous democratic and prosperous countries that have lobbying does not suffer from shortcomings, which result from the process of lobbying.