1. Travel
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

What is a Lobbyist? - FAQs About Lobbying


Barros & Barros/The Image Bank/Getty Images

What is a lobbyist?

A lobbyist is an activist who seeks to persuade members of the government (like members of Congress) to enact legislation that would benefit their group. The lobbying profession is a legitimate and integral part of our democratic political process that is not very well understood by the general population. While most people think of lobbyists only as paid professionals, there are also many volunteer lobbyists. Anyone who petitions the government or contacts their member of Congress to voice an opinion is functioning as a lobbyist. Lobbying is a regulated industry and a protected activity under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees rights to free speech, assembly, and petition.

Lobbying involves more than persuading legislators. Professional lobbyists research and analyze legislation or regulatory proposals, attend congressional hearings, and educate government officials and corporate officers on important issues. Lobbyists also work to change public opinion through advertising campaigns or by influencing 'opinion leaders'.

Who do lobbyists work for?

Lobbyists represent just about every American institution and interest group - labor unions, corporations, colleges and universities, churches, charities, environmental groups, senior citizens organizations, and even state, local or foreign governments. What do lobbyists do? Read profiles of lobbyists.

What industries spend the most on lobbying?

According to OpenSecrets.org, the following data was recorded by the Senate Office of Public Records. The top 10 industries for 2014 were:

Pharmaceuticals/Health Products - $65,420,126
Insurance - $40,008,093
Electric Utilities - $38,288,418
Computers/Internet - $35,597,059
Business Associations - $35,448,590
Oil & Gas - $33,880,219
TV/Movies/Music - $28,511,338
Securities & Investment - $26,670,959
Misc Manufacturing & Distributing - $23,650,110
Hospitals/Nursing Homes - $21,985,808

How does someone become a lobbyist? What background or training is needed?

Lobbyists come from all walks of life. Most are college graduates, and many have advanced degrees. Many lobbyists begin their careers working on Capitol Hill in a congressional office. Lobbyists must have strong communication skills and knowledge of the legislative process as well as the industry that they are representing. While there is no formal training to become a lobbyist, the American League of Lobbyists offers the Lobbying Certificate Program, a continuing education program which helps those of all skill levels improve their knowledge of the legislative process and lobbying profession.

Does a lobbyist have to be registered?

Since 1995, the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) has required individuals who are paid for lobbying at the federal level to register with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. Lobbying firms, self-employed lobbyists and organizations employing lobbyists must file regular reports of lobbying activity.

How many lobbyists are there in Washington DC?

As of 2014, there are approximately 10,000 registered lobbyists at the state and federal levels.  Many of the major lobbying firms and advocacy groups are located on K Street in Downtown Washington DC.

What restrictions are there on gifts by lobbyists to members of Congress?

The general gift rule provision states that a Member of Congress or their staff may not accept a gift from a registered lobbyist or any organization that employs lobbyists. The term “gift” covers any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, or other item having monetary value.

Where does the term “lobbyist” come from?

President Ulysses S. Grant coined the term lobbyist in the early 1800s. Grant had a fondness for the Willard Hotel lobby in Washington DC and people would approach him there to discuss individual causes.

Additional Resources About Lobbying

American League of Lobbyists – The national professional association dedicated exclusively to lobbying.

Open Secrets – Center for Responsive Politics – A nonpartisan guide tracking the spending on U.S. elections and public policy, including lobbying activities

Office of the Clerk – Explains the details of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, the lobbying registration process

OMBWatch – A website promoting open government and accountability

Lobbyingfirms.com – A lobbying industry directory

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.