The subject of lobbying vs. public relations and other ?communications? activities have been brought into focus recently and in increasingly important ways. First, in mid-March GolinHarris, a public relations firm, shut down its lobbying practice ? who knew that a public relations firm did lobbying? Then there was the ugly lobbying scandal that ripped through the United Kingdom?s national government and brought numerous investigations, allegations and threats of government regulation on the Commonwealth?s public relations industry. And just recently, reports have come to light of a bill being drafted in Massachusetts that would include public relations firms and communications specialists under the definition of ?lobbyists.?
The Functions of a Lobbying Firm
Lobbying is used to accomplish several goals including acquiring government contracts, licenses, and grants; influencing policy changes; and accessing natural resources. Lobbyists are frequently divided into four categories:
- Government relations: People who use personal connections with government officials and politicians to influence reforms.
- Process Specialists: People who provide critical advice on government policy, bureaucracy, and processes.
- Policy Strategists: People who are experts in content of specific areas of public policy, legislation and government relations.
- Communications Specialists: Who do the kind of work a public relations firm does, communicating complicated issues to various sections of the public, polling, and issue management campaigns.
What can Lobbying do?
When asked, two thirds of residents of New Jersey favored automatic registration at the Motor Vehicle Commission and expanded early in-person voting. And, another measure to make voting more accessible and equal, a new bill (A4613) would require pre-election materials to be printed in bilingually, a possible change supported by about 66% of the 867 adults surveyed between July 25th and August 1st. With pressure from a terrific lobbyist firm, these measures have a far better chance of passing than those without.
Lobbying Works, Because Lobbying is Big Business
In 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, spending on lobbying hit a five year low, falling to $3.24 billion from the previous record high of $3.55 billion in 2010. And in 2014, The Center for Responsive Politics also reports that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent the most on lobbying with $124,080,000 in lobbying expenses. The next biggest spenders on lobbyists were the National Association of Realtors at $55,057,053 and Blue Cross/Blue Shield spending $22,218,774. As an overall industry, Pharmaceutical and Health Products was the top in America in 2014, with lobbying spending amounting to over $230 million. Business associations were the second largest industry and insurance companies were third.
Petitions are great. Grass roots efforts are commendable, but if you want to make real, lasting change on a governmental level, find a lobbying firm who can help you get the message out there and make change.