Lobbying involves efforts to make direct, private, face-to-face contact with public officials to explain your position on political and social issues in order to shape policymaking.
Lobbying is a necessary component of the dialogue between citizens and their public officials. All sorts of interest groups and private individuals may schedule meetings with public officials in an attempt to get policies they favor. Public interest groups as diverse as Greenpeace and the American Life League offer guidelines for effectively lobbying your public officials.
Lobbying often evokes images of slick salesmen in expensive suits competing to essentially bribe legislators and regulators to support policies that they know are contrary to the public interest. This popular negative image has some basis in fact. Private interests are free to lobby for goods that may ultimately come at public expense. Powerful, well connected lobbyists often communicate their wealthy clients' interests to lawmakers and other public officials, and in the process they explore how their clients can be of help to public officials. (A list of all individuals registered to lobby Texas state government and a list of political action committee operating in Texas can be found on the State of Texas Ethics Commission Web site.)
It is illegal in Texas as elsewhere to trade a vote on public policy for money or other benefit, in a direct quid pro quo (something for something) exchange. The 1991 Texas Ethics Law defined as a felony the receiving of campaign contributions with an agreement to act in the contributor's interest. Yet gray areas abound, and proving an explicit exchange is usually difficult.
Despite the popular images, lobbying doesn't always involve slick lobbyists and their rich clients making implicit deals with legislators. Whether you are an officially registered lobbyist or a member of some other type of interest group, lobbying is an important and powerful technique for influencing public policy decisions. Well-positioned interest groups with extensive resources inevitably are better able to hire experienced and expensive lobbyists, in greater numbers, to pursue their agendas before government. Some organizations hire a regular "in-house" lobbyist who works exclusively for their organization as a staff member. Organizations may also employ a "contract lobbyist" who is hired as an external contractor - a political "hired gun" who likely works for more than one client at a time, perhaps on a variety of issues.
Sometimes large organizations that use numerous lobbyists might display a preference for either the in-house lobbyist or the hired-gun lobbyist. Some of the most in-demand lobbyists often come from the ranks of prominent former legislators and other government officials. For instance, in the seemingly perpetual legislative maneuvering around telecommunications regulation, in 2003 AT&T hired former state senator David Sibley (R), former state representative and Railroad Commissioner Lena Guerrero (D), and former state representatives and highly regarded lobbyists Buddy Jones (D), Bill Messer (D), and Stan Schlueter (D). SBC had hired former state senators John Montford (D), Carl Parker (D), and Kent Caperton (D) - along with former state senator, U.S. representative, and Railroad Commissioner Kent Hance (R). By 2006, the phone giant's rivals in the cable sector had hired former state representative Todd Baxter (R) to lobby for their state association. (A list of all individuals registered to lobby Texas state government and a list of political action committee operating in Texas can be found on the State of Texas Ethics Commission Web site.)
The world of lobbying in Texas fascinates political observers, participants, and occasionally the public at large. It often seems that if you and I are on different sides of an issue, lobbyists that work for my cause are good actors, while the ones that work for your cause are bad actors. Senator Kip Averitt (R-Waco) shared his view of the legitimate roles played by lobbyists in the legislative process in an appearance in the Texas Politics Speaker Series at UT-Austin in 2006.
Texas Politics features explore the world of Texas lobbyists by examining: