For many, the word “lobbyist” invokes images of smoke-filled back rooms, lavish trips and pie boxes stuffed with money, but nothing is further from the truth. For those whose interests lie in good, sound, accountable and transparent government, lobbying is an honorable profession.
I’ll concede: Like all professions, there are some shady characters, but those are few and far between. It’s just that those are the ones you hear about.
The truth of the matter is that anyone who talks to his or her elected officials is a lobbyist. While voting is the most fundamental duty, building a relationship with your elected officials and talking to them about important decisions is vital. I believe it’s even imperative to the process.
As a matter of fact, the First Amendment to the Constitution is actually written to protect such action: “The right to petition government for redress of grievances.” A Thomas Jefferson quote often used by gun-rights advocates comes to mind, but it also is relative to the First Amendment: “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
What about the power to “lobby” and voice your concerns? Couldn’t that be the “fear” Jefferson spoke of, the fear of an informed and engaged citizenry?
Lobbyists represent more than just big business. They represent organizations like Easter Seals, the National Rifle Association, the Small Business Administration and the American Family Association. We represent professionals like doctors and teachers, but also causes like helping abused children, ensuring safe food and water, and promoting educational policies.
Lobbying is an honorable profession and actually serves a vital role in the republic — one of educating both elected officials and the general public. Lobbyists bring issues to light and mount campaigns for causes they believe in. They help dig through the convolution of bureaucracy and provide information to people and legislators from perspectives that are sometimes not considered during the writing of legislation.
Lobbyists provide checks on undue influence, power and discrimination, and keep policymakers accountable. Instead of restricting them, we should be looking for ways help those organizations and causes with fewer recourses get access to legislative muscle.
Grassroots organizations have taken this concept by storm and we are seeing the results across the political spectrum. Organizations like the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and the Foundation for Government Accountability are good examples of how the general public is serving in the lobbying role. These organizations have obvious causes they promote, and serve their targeted audiences well.
By working together, individuals with common interests are able to present a unified message. They can concentrate their efforts to be more efficient and effective.
Lobbying is a constitutional right and it has a purpose. It isn’t just for the wealthy and powerful. The truth is that every citizen has an obligation to lobby their legislators on issues of concern.