In Defense of Lobbying

December 16, 2008

Robert Samuelson as written an op-ed that’s provoked a lot of comment–most of it hostile. Well over 100 attacks on the Washington Post site. Henry Farrell’s posting on Crooked Timber and related comments are other examples.

Samuelson argues that lobbying has gotten a bad rap–that it’s really the democratic processĀ in action. He’s getting justifiable flak for saying that lobbying doesn’t favor the wealthy or result in policies that tilt toward their interests. But that’s not his main point.

I think there’s a good case to be made for lobbying, and parts of Samuelson’s op-ed make it well.

The best part is his quote from Jeffrey Birnbaum, perhaps the best-known expert on lobbying in our nation’s capital. What Birnbaum says confirms my own experience. “Lobbying is much more substantive and out in the open than it ugly caricature…. [If policymakers] see merit in a position and there is a public outcry in its favor, that’s the way they tend to vote.”

There are two lesson for us here:

  • We need to have good arguments for policies that will improve the lives of poor people–arguments that speak to the public interest and are backed up with facts.
  • We need to be part of a “public outcry” in favor of these policies.

Happily, there are many fine organizations that do relevant research, craft good arguments and use them to lobby for the interests of poor people or make them available to those who do. They need our support.

Those of us who can afford to can donate. All of us can respond when the organizations ask us to weigh in with our elected representatives. Signing up for theirĀ action alerts is a good first step.

We can also become lobbyists ourselves. But that’s a subject for another posting.