Corporate Lobbying and Policy Making in AmericaLobbying has been essential to law making in The United States since its inception.
Lobbying is paid advocacy, commonly by a special interest group, seeking favors in a law- making body such as the United States Congress (Cambridge, n.d.). Lobbying can affect every level of government from local to federal. The competency of individuals, groups, and corporations to lobby the government is protected by the right to petition under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has continually upheld the right of interest groups to present their cause to the government, and as a result an unassailable foundation was created for today’s lobbying.
Corporations have even been considered in some decisions to have the same rights as citizens, including the right to lobby officials for what they want. However, the question remains: is corporate lobbying beneficial to policy-making for US citizens? Corporate lobbying became more prominent in the federal government during the reconstruction period after the Civil War. Under President Grant’s administration, more intense federal lobbying occurred in 1860 -1877 than ever before in US history. Most influential lobbies worked towards railroad subsidies for the Transcontinental Railroad. The leaders of both companies lobbied incessantly for government aid (Klein). Their efforts would lead to the railroad act of 1862 and 1864.
They would both provide the necessary assistance. Each railroad would receive their right-of-way and approximately 12,800 acres per mile on alternating sides of the track. They also received $16,000 a mile for each twenty-mile section of track laid on the plains, $32,000 per mile for the plateau between the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains, and $48,000 per mile for the mountain regions. Each company could also issue its own first mortgage bonds for the same amount as the government bonds, relegating the latter interests to a second mortgage (Klein).
Allowing the railroads to sell the land without any liability to the seller. While these provisions would prove fruitful they would ultimately only play a minor role in funding. Because of the Railroad act of 1864 the land that was deemed laborious to sell could be held as collateral for construction under another class of securities known as land-grant bonds which could be seized in the event of a default on their loans. As a result of heavy lobbying in Congress both the Central Pacific and Union Pacific could obtain these assistances, and mitigate serious financial risk to private investors creating the necessary funding to complete the railroad. The completion of the railroad allowed for easier expansion into the western territories, and effortless transportation of goods compared to previous methods of transportation such as wagon convoys. Thanks in large part to lobbying the completion of the railroad was possible which arguably improved the quality of life for Americans on the frontier. This is a very early example of the advantages lobbying can bestow upon the American people.
While one could contend corporate lobbyists only uphold the interests of their employer, I would argue lobbyists, corporate ones especially, maintain the public interest in the highest regard. Corporations understand that the loss of public support would mean the loss of profit, and any unjust decision in congress would rightfully be met with disgust. Therefore, it is in their best interest to consider public opinion. Not only is it in a corporation’s best interests to consider public opinion, but also there has been a shift in corporate culture to bear more social responsibility.
To bridge a growing gap between corporation and consumer more corporations are using their platform to advocate for a common good. For example, in June of 2005 congress was debating the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. On that same day six Mary Kay sales directors drove to the U.S. Capitol and advocated for $500 million in additional federal funds for domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking (Wallach). The Violence Against Women Act was not only reauthorized, but the additional $500 million lobbied for by Mary Kay was obtained from the Department of Justice and Health and Human services. While some could argue that corporations only use public service as a form of good publicity, this does not change the fact that their service has a positive effect in the community. Even lobbies with seemingly inimical methods do still lobby for the rights of the people.
It may appear that corporations do not always use their influence to have a positive effect on legislation however, their actions are often misconstrued by a misinformed public. The tobacco industry spends millions every year lobbying to repeal clean air legislation and maintain their ability advertise and sell tobacco. Tobacco has been proven to induce serious health conditions including heart disease and cancer. The question may arise, why are cigarettes still legal for the public to buy? While it appears that the tobacco lobby only advocates for the tobacco industry’s rights, their real campaign is for the freedom of choice for the American people. Although cigarettes may pose a serious health risk tobacco companies believe, as do many Americans, that it is not the responsibility of a government to dictate what an adult can and cannot do with their own body. While dangerous, smoking is a choice which should be determined by the individual. These companies also realize they bear some responsibility, which is why they market to an appropriate target audience, and inform the public on the dangers of smoking.
The goal of the tobacco lobby is to curb the power of regulatory agencies like the FTC. The same FTC that continues to oppose net neutrality in their pursuit to grossly regulate every market. Corporate lobbying has been and will continue to play a crucial role in the creation of jobs and social programs which benefit all citizens, from the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad to obtaining funding for important social programs.
Even when their intentions are mistaken and portrayed as malicious corporate lobbyists are aware of the influence they posses and will routinely work to benefit the public as well as their employer.