When it comes to politics, getting the results you want often comes down to who you know and getting them to see things your way more often than not. For many organizations across the United States, one of the best ways to ensure they will get the results they want is using lobbyists to help sway those in power.
Lobbyist Job Description
In the most simple terms, a lobbyist is a paid activist who represents either a group of people or an individual. The job of the lobbyist is to use their skills of communication and persuasion to either get something changed or keep things as they currently are within the government. Lobbyists can work on issues at all levels of government, from local and municipal all the way up to the halls of Congress. The main purpose of a lobbyist is to influence those who have policy-making authority, which for the most part are elected officials. The ways in which they go about influencing those in authority vary, but most often involve money. For example, while there are limits as to the amount of money a person can give to a politician’s campaign, there is no limit when it comes to the number of people a lobbyist can recommend donate to the campaign. Thus, when a lobbyist represents a large group of people, they can manage to influence a politician by promising the support of their group if the official votes a certain way. While this may sound illegal, so long as none of the followers are coerced into donating, it is all perfectly legal.
What is a Lobbyist?
A lobbyist uses a combination of communication and public relations skills to gain influence with politicians at all levels of government, particularly at the state and national levels. Interacting with officials and legislators in an effort to get policies and laws enacted that will be in the best interests of their clients, they use a variety of means including social media, demonstrations, and press conferences to put pressure on those in charge. In addition, lobbyists gain influence by building vast networks of contacts within a state or region, then brings them together to unite on a particular issue. This is a very important part of a lobbyist’s career, since having a reputation for knowing many people and having their trust is what ultimately paves the way for lobbyists to speak with those who have the ability to grant the changes they are requesting.
How to Become a Lobbyist
While many people assume there are certain requirements to become a lobbyist, the fact is there is no clearly defined career path to doing so. However, most lobbyists do possess a Bachelor’s degree in such fields as political science, journalism, economics, business administration, communications, or other related fields. Many lobbyists possess law degrees and have successful law practices, where they make contacts with politicians and other officials and act as lobbyists in addition to their law practice. While many of these lobbyists are part-time, others are full-time lobbyists and are employed by financial institutions, educational institutions and organizations, political and social organizations, private lobbying firms, and even individuals. To get started in the field, many future lobbyists begin by working for public relations firms, where they gain experience as well as contacts with numerous government officials. Some lobbyists begin their careers by contacting organizations and offering to represent them and their cause to policymakers, which allows them to gain invaluable experience in the field. Some colleges even offer lobbying internships to students interested in the field, which is a great way to gain real-world experience in the field while still in school. Within these internships, students work with more experienced lobbyists and learn the skills and tactics needed to win influence within the halls of government.
In addition to possessing a college degree, most lobbyists also become certified to gain even more professional respect among their peers as well as politicians. No matter what state in which they practice, lobbyists must either be licensed or registered in order to legally practice lobbying. While requirements among states vary, some states such as California require lobbyists to complete an ethics course and pay an annual fee. Some lobbyists choose to complete the Lobbying Certificate Program offered by the Association of Government Relations Professionals, which gives them the LCP designation and recognizes them as professional lobbyists. In fact, lobbyists who earn $6,000 or more and spend at least 50 hours lobbying for a group within a 6-month period must register with the federal government. However, of all the requirements needed to be an excellent lobbyist, it is perhaps the verbal and written communication skills they possess that determine how successful their career will be over the years ahead. The best lobbyists are not only capable of being persuasive, charismatic, and charming, but can also do an about-face and be tenacious and resilient when needed. They must know how to be aggressive without being too aggressive, since pushing people too far can often result in failing to get the results they seek.
The average annual salary for a lobbyist can vary, but generally averages from $46,000-$100,000 or more depending on if they are full or part-time, if they are self-employed or work for a lobbying firm or organization, where they are located, and what level of government in which they lobby. While the goal of many lobbyists is to work in Washington, D.C. meeting with and attempting to sway members of Congress to see things their way, there are in fact almost as many lobbyists working at the state and local levels of government pursuing issues of interest to the organizations employing them. Naturally, jobs at these levels of government pay far less than those in Washington, but they are nevertheless just as important to those whose lives may be changed by the policies that may be created or changed along the way. But while most lobbyists make a comfortable living, others who have achieved high levels of trust and respect in politics can earn far more. Some lawyers who also act as lobbyists have been known to earn more than $70 million per year, lobbying for more than 350 clients through their law firms. Lobbyists who work in Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and Sacramento are also known to command large salaries, since these cities are hotbeds for policy decisions that affect millions of people everyday.
For those who have had an interest in politics and how policy is created and changed, a career as a lobbyist may be the perfect fit. Using a variety of communication skills, along with a willingness to pursue an issue as far as possible to get the desired results, can lead to a long and prosperous career helping to shape the laws and policies that govern every part of the United States. While lobbyists may sometimes be given a negative reputation, the fact is they play an important role in helping various organizations and individuals gain attention for the causes in which they believe. By doing so, small towns as well as large cities become better places to live thanks to their efforts.