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What is Lobbying?

Lobbying includes all attempts to influence legislators and officials, whether by other legislators, constituents or organized groups. Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying.
The supposed origins of the term "lobbyist" vary. The BBC holds that lobbying comes from the gathering of Members of Parliament and peers in the hallways (or lobbies) of Houses of Parliament before and after parliamentary debates. The modern British Parliament was established by the Acts of Union in 1707. One story states that the term originated at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, where it was used by Ulysses S. Grant to describe the political wheelers and dealers frequenting the hotel's lobby in order to access Grant who was often found there, enjoying a cigar and brandy.

United States

Many jurisdictions, in response to concerns of corruption, require the formal registration of lobbyists who come in contact with government representatives. Since 1995, under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (2 U.S.C. § 1601–1612), most persons who are paid to make direct "lobbying contacts" with members of Congress and officials of the federal executive branch are required to register and file reports twice a year.

However, there are ongoing conflicts between organizations that wish to impose greater restrictions on lobbying activities, and groups that argue that such restrictions infringe on the right to petition government officials, which is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

For example, in January 2004, the U.S. Senate considered S. 1, an omnibus "ethics reform" bill. This bill contained a provision (Section 220) to establish federal regulation, for the first time, of certain efforts to encourage "grassroots lobbying." The bill said that "'grassroots lobbying' means the voluntary efforts of members of the general public to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials or to encourage other members of the general public to do the same." This provision was opposed by a broad array of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Right to Life Committee, and the National Rifle Association, who argued that attempts by constituents to influence their representatives are at the heart of representational democracy, and that neither such contacts nor efforts to motivate such contacts should be considered "lobbying." On January 18, 2007, the U.S. Senate voted 55-43 to strike Section 220 from the bill. However, other proposed regulations on "grassroots lobbying" remain under consideration in the 110th Congress.

Another controversial bill, the "Executive Branch Reform Act, H.R. 985, would require over 8,000 Executive Branch officials to report into a public database nearly any "significant contact" from any "private party." Although promoted as a regulation on "lobbyists," the bill defines "private party" as "any person or entity" except "Federal, State, or local government official or a person representing such an official." Thus, under the proposal, anyone who contacts a covered government official is in effect deemed to be a lobbyist, unless the communicator is another government official or government staff person. The bill defines "significant contact" to be any "oral or written communication (including electronic communication) . . . in which the private party seeks to influence official action by any officer or employee of the executive branch of the United States." The bill is supported by some organizations as an expansion of "government in the sunshine," but other groups oppose it as an infringing on the right to petition by making it impossible for citizens to communicate their views on controversial issues without having their names and viewpoints entered into a government database. The U.S. Department of Justice has raised constitutional and other objections to the bill.

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected congressional efforts to regulate grassroots communications as a form of “lobbying," on constitutional grounds. In 1953, in a suit involving a congressional resolution authorizing a committee to investigate “all lobbying activities intended to influence, encourage, promote, or retard legislation,” the Supreme Court narrowly construed “lobbying activities” to mean only “direct” lobbying (which the Court described as “representations made directly to the Congress, its members, or its committees”), and rejected a broader interpretation of “lobbying” out of First Amendment concerns. [United States v. Rumely, 345 U.S. 41 (1953).] The Supreme Court thereby affirmed the earlier decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which said:

“In support of the power of Congress it is argued that lobbying is within the regulatory power of Congress, that influence upon public opinion is indirect lobbying, since therefore attempts to influence public opinion are subject to regulation by the Congress. Lobbying, properly defined, is subject to control by Congress, . . . But the term cannot be expanded by mere definition so as to include forbidden subjects. Neither semantics nor syllogisms can break down the barrier which protects the freedom of people to attempt to influence other people by books and other public writings. . . . It is said that lobbying itself is an evil and a danger. We agree that lobbying by personal contact may be an evil and a potential danger to the best in legislative processes. It is said that indirect lobbying by the pressure of public opinion on the Congress is an evil and a danger. That is not an evil; it is a good, the healthy essence of the democratic process. . . .
— [Rumely v. United States, 197 F.2d 166, 173-174, 177 (D.C. Cir. 1952).]


While determining lobbyists' precise influence over legislative decision-making in the United States can never be fully determined, non-profit organizations such as the Center for Responsive Politics, or Opensecrets, attempt to track money in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy.

European Union

Lobbying in Brussels was only born in the late 1970s. Up to that time, “diplomatic lobbying” at the highest levels remained the rule. There were few lobbyists involved in the system and except for some business associations, representative offices were rarely used. The event that sparked the explosion of lobbying was the first direct election of the European Parliament in 1979. Up until then the Parliament consisted complex, and companies increasingly felt the need of an expert local presence to find out what was going on in Brussels. The foundation of lobbying was therefore the need to provide information. From that developed the need to influence the  process actively and effectively . The next important step in lobbying development was the Single European Act of 1986 which both created the qualified majority vote for taking decisions in the Council and enhanced the role of the Parliament, again making EU legislation more complex and lobbying more important and attractive for stakeholders. In short, the stronger the EU developed from a Member States organization to its own political player in the world, the more policy areas it covered, the more important it became as a lobbying target. With the EU enlargement in 2004 this development has taken a further step, bringing in not only a lot more players and stakeholders but also a wide range of different political cultures and traditions.

In the wake of the Abramoff scandal in Washington and in light of the massive impact that this had on the lobbying scene in the U.S.A., the rules for lobbying in the EU — which until now only consist of a non-binding code of conduct — may also be tightened.

Current Practice

The fragmented nature of EU institutional structure provides multiple channels through which organized interests may seek to influence policy-making. Lobbying takes place at the European level itself and within the existing national states. The most important institutional targets are the Commission, the Council, and the European Parliament. The Commission has a monopoly on the initiative in Community decision-making. Since it has the power to draft initiatives, it makes it ideally suited as an arena for interest representation. There are three main channels of indirect lobbying of the Council. First, interest groups routinely lobby the national delegations in Brussels,; the second indirect means of lobbying the Council is for interest groups to lobby members of the many Council-working groups. The third means of influencing the Council is directly via national governments. As a consequence of the co-decision procedures, the European Parliament attracts attention from lobbyists who target the rapporteur and the chairman of the committee. The rapporteurs are MEPs appointed by Committees to prepare the parliament’s response to the Commission’s proposal and to those measures taken by the Parliament itself.
There are currently around 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels (consultants, lawyers, associations, corporations, NGOs etc.) seeking to influence the EU’s legislative process. Some 2,600 special interest groups have a permanent office in Brussels. Their distribution is roughly as follows: European trade federations (32%), consultants (20%), companies (13%), NGOs (11%), national associations (10%), regional representations (6%), international organizations (5%) and think tanks (1%), (Lehmann, 2003, pp iii).

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom lobbying traditionally referred to the attempt to influence an MP's vote by either their fellow parliamentary colleagues, by one of their constituents or by any outside organisation. Currently the term often refers to the more narrow usage of the operation of "lobbyists" hired to represent the views of an organisation.  This industry has been steadily growing in recent years and is now estimated to be worth £1.9 billion and employ 14000 people.  A recent report by the Hansard Society has shown some MPs are approached over 100 times a week.

The Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) is a self regulatory body for UK public affairs companies. Its code of conduct promotes 'transparency' and forbids certain practices, such as making payments to MPs.
In addition to "open" lobbying, the United Kingdom, political parties have been accused of trying to raise campaign funds by offering peerages and other honors. Since peers sit in the House of Lords, part of the UK legislature, they are in a position to initiate or amend Bills on their way to becoming Acts of Parliament - a very influential position. The rules of Parliament do, however, require participants in debates to 'declare their interest'. The 'sale' of peerages is a criminal offence. To circumvent this law, it is alleged that some contributions thus solicited, are given not as outright gifts but as loans.

Eastern Europe

Only countries where lobbying is regulated in parliament bills are: Georgia (1998), Lithuania (2001) Poland (2005) and Hungary (2006). All require registration of professional lobbyists. So far, there is no complex lobbying regulation in other European countries. There were many attempts, but with no satisfactory results.

Lobbying in Malta

Malta is not immune to the world wide trend of lobbying. Governments have limited resources and therefore many sectors endeavour to take a piece of the national cake through various means. 
The words dialogue and consultation have become synonymous with Maltese politics. The word lobbying is kept for the intimate parties were those that attend seem to take the opportunity to drop a word in the ears of those in power. On the other hand, the Maltese Parliament also enjoys its own lobby where Members of Parliament may meet their constituents and other influential persons. For some these areas are known as the corridors of power.
In Malta, the term constituted bodies, is mainly used to refer to the leading business organisations, namely the Chamber of Commerce, General Retailers and Traders Union and the Federation of Industries. Other private organisations exist in all spheres, ranging from hunters to environmentalists. Trade unions also have their share of influence in local politics, although their sphere of influence is diminishing.
To a certain extent, one can state that lobbying in Malta has been institutionalised through the setting up, by legislation of the Council for Economic and Social Development. One Minister has described the Council as a band club committee where people meet and chat on the presentation made by the Senior Government Official. This might be a Parliamentary Secretary or a Minister. The Council is formed by Government appointees, and representatives from the constituted bodies and the trade unions. The Council takes centre stage during the preparations of the Government’s annual financial budget that may also include policy measures to regulate the economy.
The Local Councils’ Association is a member of a consultative sub-committee where NGO’s participate. The Association has requested that it should sit on the main Council but this request has not yet been accepted by Government.
Furthermore, the Local Councils’ Association believes that it has a very important role in shaping Government policy. Not only it represents the 68 Local Councils in Malta and Gozo, but also has an interest to defend citizens’ rights since local councillors are the politicians closest to the citizens in each and every Locality. For this purpose, it is necessary that the Government support the Association in its capacity building programme in order to have the required compliment of human resources.
The Association is committed to lobby for more devolution to local councils. Local Councils must remain autonomous and without any interference from outside institutions, including the national government. Local Councils require more funds in order to implement new programmes and initiatives related to the social, educational and cultural sectors. Local Councils must have a determining factor in economic development, including development of local tourism plans.
Through its active involvement in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (Council of Europe) and the Committee of the Regions (European Union) we shall also continue to lobby for strategic reforms in order to make both institutions closer to citizens and to develop policy documents that meet the aspirations of national taxpayers.​