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Lobbying and Ethics


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The Definition of a Lobbyist
Facade of U.S. Capitol building
"Alina Vincent Photography, LLC"/E+/Getty Images

What is a lobbyist?

"Lobbyists are in many cases expert technicians capable of examining complex and difficult subjects in clear, understandable fashion. They engage in personal discussion with members of Congress in which they explain in detail the reasons for the positions they advocate...Because our congressional representation is based upon geographical boundaries, the lobbyists who speak for the various economic, commercial and other functional interests of the country serve a useful purpose and have assumed an important role in the legislative process." Senator John F. Kennedy, 1956

My children would say that my dad is a lobbyist and he has lunch for a living. They mean of course that I meet with people often. According to Black's Law Dictionary, lobbying means "to talk with a legislator, sometimes in a luxurious setting, in an attempt to influence the legislator's vote." Wow, in once sentence issues of ethics soar to the forefront. Luckily for me, other definitions have been put forward by equally learned sources without the insinuation of corruption. According to Georgetown's Woodstock Center, lobbying: "means the deliberate attempt to influence political decisions through various forms of advocacy directed at policymakers on behalf of another person, organization or group."

If and when I meet someone for lunch, is that a "form of advocacy" or is it an attempt to influence a vote in a luxurious setting? Should I be embarrassed or proud? What is the difference between a government affairs professional and a lobbyist, especially when the person is working to influence policy? What ethical rules apply?

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