Lobbying is an integral part of how the American political system functions. Lobbying allows interest groups to express their views regarding particular subjects in the political system while allowing the interests themselves to remain at least somewhat distinct from the political process. Regardless of your views on political lobbying, we strongly suggest you read this sample essay by one of the world-class writers from Ultius in order to expand your knowledge of such an important aspect of the American government.
Lobbyists, PACs and Campaign Finance Reform
There has always been a prevailing influence within the government. From governors to mayors to lawmakers, the thought process for many is that they are easily swayed in a particular direction. Among other elements in the political arena that utilize powerful persuasion tactics are lobbyists and political action committees. The definition of a lobbyist is one who seeks to get a particular type of legislation passed to the benefit of the group that they represent.
A political action committee is a specific organization that obtains an amount of contributions for a political campaign in the hopes of shaping public policy such as changes to the drinking age. Such prominence of both groups has caused an ethical conversation over the years as to whether politicians indeed stand by the values of the people with regard to policy shaping or if the gifts and money they receive is a more convincing mechanism to disregard society and become slaves to the lobbyists and PACs.
There is reason to believe that at one point in time lobbying was a positive practice, and to a certain extent, still is today. In 1995, the Lobbying Disclosure Act was passed following a long span of time where regulation and lobbying disclosure efforts were sought to become more effective. It is generally noted that lobbying is not illegal but rather an ethical issue. While there are restrictions such as the general gift rule with states that Congressional members cannot receive gifts of any kind from lobbyists that does not mean that lobbyist groups have not been able to penetrate the public policy discourse.
As a result of the Lobbying Disclosure Act in 1995, there are certain rules that lobbyists must follow in how they execute influence with public policy. They have to make themselves aware through registration and reporting (Holman, 2006). In other words, while interest groups have a vested stake in affecting public policy, lobbying to a certain degree, has transparency.
Public view of lobbying
Both lobbying and PACs are billion dollar enterprises associated with special interest groups. When mostly discussed, lobbying and PACs are looked at unfavorably by the general public due to the underhandedness commonly associated with each respective group. But when examined further, not all lobbyists are horrible nor are all PACs affecting public policy in a negative fashion. It then becomes a matter of public perception as to the moral grounds, specifically in the case of lobbying for the legalization of marijuana, by which both lobbying and PACs exist, given that neither is illegal.
Motives behind lobbying
Literature on the subject of PAC money is vast and voluminous, but not decisive as to the motives associated with these types of groups. Hall and Wayman (1990) stated that the general consensus of PACs is that they distribute contributions in an effort to encourage representatives to put more effort toward legislation that suits their agenda. For example, proponents of gun control, privatization and tobacco exports may contribute to a certain politician with the hopes that if he/she wins, they can court them with powerful influence to influence the votes on those particular bills in Congress.
This has led to a debate regarding the infusions of cash and campaign finances in elections. Critics of PACs argue that without some form of tight regulations on campaign finance contributions by PACs that lawmakers will do whatever they are told to do by these special interest groups. Proponents of PACs argue that restrictions of that kind of nature would simply move interest groups to utilize lobbying instead (Wolaver and Magee, 2006; Alexander and Lukes, 1990).
The federal election commission
Campaign finance reform is what has come out of the debate that has raged on for many years. In 1972, the Federal Election Campaign Act was established requiring political candidates to disclose their campaign contributor sources. The act was amended in 1974, when the Federal Election Commission was established. The amendment introduced contribution limits. In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was enacted, which is the most recent form of legislation pertaining to campaign finance (“Major provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002,” 2013). This particular act revised many of the limits that were placed on campaign contributions that were set in 1974.
Does this mean that PACs and lobbyists for issues such as abortion rights still are not able to affect public policy? The answer is not as definitive as the general public would probably believe it to be. While there is an element of legality to both political action committees and lobbyists, there is still the nagging thought amidst the public regarding how much laws are slanted toward them or whether the laws that are being enacted and passed are more or less saturated with influence from the powerful special interest groups.
Alexander, H., & Lukes, T. (1990). The Power of Money: The Ethics of Campaign Finance Reform (Symposium Discussion/Journal Article in Issues in Ethics, V.3, N.2). Retrieved from Markkula Center for Applied Ethics website: http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v3n2/money.html
Holman, C. (2006, May 11). Origins, Evolution and Structure of the Lobbying Disclosure Act [Article]. Retrieved from Public Citizen website: http://www.citizen.org/documents/LDAorigins.pdf
Major provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. (2013). Retrieved July 12, 2013, from Federal Election Commission website: http://www.fec.gov/press/bkgnd/bcra_overview.shtml
Wolaver, A. M., & Magee, C. S. (2006). The Effects of Political Action Committee Contributions on Medical Liability Legislation. Topics in Economic Analysis & Policy, 6(1), 1-23.