Interest Groups, Lobbyists and Congress

Washington DC is teeming with interest groups, lobbyists and other groups, all with the goal of trying to affect the outcome of public policy. Although the idea of interest groups and lobbyists having an effect on Congress finds disfavor with many people, it is likely that the number of interest groups and lobbyists will continue to expand in the future. This means it is imperative to develop an understanding of exactly how interest groups can affect Congress.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Korean Resource Center 민족학교

The activity of interest groups and lobbyists is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. “Congress shall make no law…abridging…the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

There are all types of lobbyists and interest groups that work in Washington on a daily basis to represent the interests of a variety of organizations, businesses, and people. Most of the large businesses in the country employ lobbyists on an in-house basis. Lobbyists also work in and with trade associations. There are also independent lobbying firms and law firms that may provide services as well.

Lobbyists and interest groups can provide a very valuable service to Congressional members. It is practically impossible for any single member of Congress to understand every aspect of a particular issue. Members of Congress rely on lobbyists to explain the way in which Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibsonorganizations and businesses operate before they form an opinion on a particular issue. In many cases a business or organization may be part of a member’s constituency, which means that when the member hears from an interest group or lobbyist they are actually hearing about the interests that affect the people they represent.

Regardless of the size of your organization, you probably have representation in Washington. You can certainly be sure that other organizations will have representatives who are active and busy in Washington to ensure they have the greatest advantage possible.

Small groups often find that representation through a trade association is sufficient while larger groups may consider employing an independent firm to represent them in Washington. To learn more about lobbying and interest groups as well as the influence they can have on Congress, consider our 1-day course, Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, and our 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Ch. 12 Interest Groups and Lobbyists



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