What is lobbying?

Lobbying is an activity that is performed at different levels, from companies to small associations or NGOs. At the business level, lobbying is generally carried out by sectors which are the most regulated.

From its 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 the direct participation of the citizens in public affairs.

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 especially to the legislative and executive powers, in order to communicate their ideas and interests, collect information, defend their situation or urge changes in legislation that may affect them.

Lobbying is a professional activity focused on the defense of legitimate interests within the different areas of political decision-making. It is committed to transfering the position and interests of an organization to the public administration and different political parties. In this way, these interests become a part of the debate and are taken into account to ensure that the regulations are beneficial and do not harm the interests of the organization or group.

What is the purpose of lobbying?

  • To allow participation in the public decision-making process.
  • To improve the dialogue between the Government and civil society representatives.
  • To provide decision-makers with technical and sectoral information in order to execute the legislative work.
  • To encourage public debate on several issues.
  • To help companies stay informed and to be aware of public priorities.

Which sectors lobby?

Why is it called lobbying?

The term literally comes from a “lobby”, understanding it as an entrance hall in Congress, a hotel, or any other public building. However, its meaning as “pressure group” originated in a specific entrance hall, or lobby, in 1640. It was one that connected the House of Commons with the central hall of the Palace of Westminster. Here, British parliamentarians received and commented on messages and reports from social forces before and after the sessions. This is a custom that is still practiced today in Westminster.

The term “lobby” first appeared in the American press in 1820 as a way to describe Senate members who interacted with members of the House of Representatives in the building’s lobby in order to pass certain legislation.

One famous story claims that the term originated at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. This story narrates how President Ulysses S. Grant used the word to describe the political figures who frequented the hotel lobby, and how they bought drinks for the president in an attempt 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 public could 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 with “power in the shadows”. This is partly due to the bad image conveyed by Hollywood regarding simple dialogues between sectors of civil society with legislators and governors.

Researchers at Harvard University, came to the conclusion that lobbying is not bribery, after having investigated lobbyists for almost a year. 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 backrooms 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. Thus, 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 wherein the 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 as defined by the Commission are divided into three branches: professional consultants and law firms; lobbyists from companies and trade associations; and think tanks and NGOs.