No one knows who the first lobbyist was, but there is no doubt that lobbying is an essential part of a free government and has been around since the beginnings of our nation. After all, lobbying is nothing more than talking to a politician in an attempt to persuade him or her to a point of view that you favor. As long as the first amendment remains, we will have lobbying.
Unfortunately, lobbying does have a bit of a reputation problem. This is, in part, due to how lobbyist are portrayed in movies, which exaggerate and invent schemes that have little base in reality. That said, there is no question that lobbying needs to be watched and regulated, lest it become unethical and unfair. For that reason, there are now state and federal rules for lobbying and oversight bodies to enforce them.
The following are commonly accepted ethical approaches to government and political lobbying.
- Cultivate relationships. Ethical lobbyists cultivate relationships with politicians, and seek to keep those honest lines of communication open. Short term manipulations and lies will never lead to a long lobbying career.
- Operate with integrity. Like every business, short cuts lead to a short career. Be honest and fair always.
- Obey state and federal laws. There are requirements and rules. Know them and be honest enough to follow them.
- Treat other lobbyists with professional courtesy. You never know when someone may be more powerful as an ally than as an enemy.
- Be honest at all times. In this, lobbying is no different from any other human endeavor. Telling the truth sometimes limits your effectiveness in the short term, but always pays off in the long run.
- Follow the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law. Inevitably, lobbying leads one into grey areas. When that happens, seek to follow the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law.
- Be transparent. Don’t hide. Be open. Keep records. Be public with your information where appropriate.
If lobbyists followed these guidelines, we would no longer have a reputation problem.