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Corporate Lobbying in the US

Carole Cornano | Paris III Sorbonne-Nouvelle (France) | Intern Ethical Information Analyst, Covalence SA, Geneva, 14.08.2008

DISCLAIMER: Covalence employs students and young graduates as intern ethical information analysts in partnership with various universities. During their 2 to 4 months internship analysts have the opportunity to conduct a research on a topic of their choice. Intern analysts present their findings during a staff meeting and write an article to be published on Covalence website. These articles reflect the intern analysts’ own views, ideas, opinions, subjectivity and methodological choices and are published under the responsibility of their individual author. Covalence SA does not endorse the content nor the quality of such articles.

LOBBYING PRACTICES: AN HISTORICAL OUTLOOK Lobbying is a practice as old as government itself. In the United States, it is allowed and protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution which reads: “Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech […] or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”. Although the roots of the term lobbyist remain quite blurry to this day, we know that it was coined in the 1800’s. By 1835, it was in wide use in U.S. Congress often to speak pejoratively of those trying to influence government’s policies. This may be due to the fact that this profession is little known and therefore little understood by the general public. Even nowadays lobbyists are still portrayed as cigar-smoking men who bribe lawmakers and slip wads of dollar bills into their pockets, but to simply describe this activity, it consists in groups, industries, organizations or individuals advocating an opinion to support their clients’ interests. Their goal is to persuade legislators to pass or defeat a bill. Sometimes, they also attempt to change an existing law. The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) was aimed at regulating this activity and insisting on transparency. Lobbyists have to register with the Senate Office of Public Records and report at least twice a year a detail of their operations, they are defined by the LDA as persons who spend at least 20 percent of their time for a particular client on lobbying activities, they have multiple contacts with legislative staff, members of Congress, or high-level executive branch officials, and they work for a client paying more than $5,000 over six months for that service. However, many do not fall under this category though their activity is rather close to lobbying practices. This is the case of grass-root political activities, congressional testimonies and public relations which are not recognized as lobbying under the law while they are in fact synonymous with efforts to pressure members of Congress. Likewise, Churches are excluded from the LDA’s reporting requirements although the clout of some religious groups especially among the Republican Party is undeniable. How important are lobbying practices in the United States and in the world? This paper will assess the clout of corporate lobbying. It will deal with the multinational companies and sectors most involved in lobbying practices and outline their results in terms of policy making.

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