What is lobbying?

Lobbying is an activity that is performed at different levels, from companies to small associations or NGOs. At a business level, lobbying is performed by the most regulated industries as a general rule.

From the first article, the Spanish Constitution designs a model of a social and democratic State subject to the rule of law, which advocates liberty and political pluralism as superior values; a project of democracy not only based on representation, but also on direct participation by the citizens in public affairs.

The interest groups play an important and legitimate role in the democratic process. It is a fundamental right that representatives of civil society have access to the institutions and, in a special way, to the legislative and executive powers, in order to communicate their ideas and interests, to collect information, to defend their situation or to urge to change the legislation that may affect them.

Lobbying is a professional activity focused on the defense of legitimate interests before the different areas in political decision making. It is committed to transfering the position and interest of an organization to the public administrations and political parties, to work so that those interests become a part of the debate and there are achieved several regulations that benefit and do not harm the interests of an organization or group.

What is the purpose of lobbying?

  • Allowing participation in the process of political decision making.
  • Improving the dialogue between the Government and the representatives of the civil society.
  • Providing the decider with technical and sectorial information to execute the legislative work.
  • Promoting public debate on several issues.
  • Helping companies to keep updated and to know the public priorities.

Which sectors do lobby?

Why is it called lobbying?

The term literally comes from a “lobby”, understanding it as a hall. Indeed, its new meaning as “pression group” originated in a specific hall in 1640, the one that connected the House of Commons with the central hall of the Palace of Westminster. Here, British parliamentarians commented on messages and reports they received from social forces before and after the sessions. A custom that is still practiced nowadays in Westminster.

The new acceptation first appeared in the American press in 1820 and it described Senate members who interacted in the building’s lobby with members of the House of Representatives to pass a certain legislation.

A famous story claims that the term originated at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. It tells how President Ulysses S. Grant used the word to describe the political figures who frequented the hotel’s lobby, and how they bought drinks for the president to try to influence his political decisions.

However, in a BBC report, one historian showed that the term has its origins in meetings of members of the Parliament and their colleagues in the lobbies of the British Houses before and after parliamentary debates, where the publics can meet with their representatives.

El vestíbulo del Willard Hotel, donde se rumorea que se originó la palabra «lobby».

Lobbying is neither bribery nor power in the shadows

Caricatura de 1891 sobre la actividad de los grupos de presión en Estados Unidos (Dominio público)

Lobbying in Spain is still synonymous of power in the shadows. This is partly due to the bad image conveyed by Hollywood of this simple dialogue between sectors of the civil society and legislators and rulers.

Researchers from Harvard University, after studying lobbyists for almost a year, concluded that lobbying is not bribery. They summarized what makes lobbyists so influential in two sentences:

“Contrary to public misconception, the daily life of firm lobbyists is not filled with glamorous parties and smoke-filled backroom politicking where lobbyists engage in quid pro quo transactions of money for policy. Rather, these firm lobbyists focus their professional attention on honing the fine art of building relationships, primarily with members of Congress and their staffs, but also with potential clients, coalitions and other individuals and organizations related to their clients and issue areas.”

Instead, they concluded that lobbyists gain influence by building and maintaining relationships with legislators and their staff members. Then, they could use these relationships to influence said legislators to support issues of interest and of importance to them.

Lobbying can therefore be understood as an activity whose aim is to improve political decisions through the realistic perceptions of companies, associations or groups of citizens.

Lobbying in the EU

In the European Union, the lobbies seek to “influence policy making processes” in its institutions. The groups defined by the Commission are divided into three branches: professional consultants and law firms; lobbyists from companies and trade associations; and think tanks (or “idea factories”) and NGOs.