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If you think you would like to change the way things work and you like the high-energy world of politics, you might consider a job as a lobbyist. Lobbying is the right of any person or group to provide information to legislators in order to influence the passage or defeat of legislation. Anyone can lobby. It is a right protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Professional lobbyists make lobbying a full-time job.
Many groups and companies are interested in the legislation that gets passed by state legislatures and by Congress. These groups want to inform the elected officials about their issues and try to convince them to pass bills that will help the group or the company. To do this, companies and groups hire lobbyists.
A lobbyist is a person who is familiar with the interests of the client and with the legislative process. A lobbyist goes to an elected official before a particular law comes up for a vote and discusses with the senator or representative why the company or group wants the bill passed. The lobbyist must try to answer all the questions that the elected official has. Most elected officials are very busy and cannot give a lobbyist more than a few minutes. A lobbyist has to deliver the message in the shortest amount of time.
Lobbyists have to know something about psychology in order to deal with people whose views differ from the lobbyist's point of view. Often lobbyists will be involved in emotional discussions. A good lobbyist listens to the other points of view and doesn't get angry. A lobbyist knows when to compromise, or give up something in order to get something. Lobbyists must know how to communicate both orally and in writing. To be effective, a lobbyist must build a network of contacts. These contacts may include elected officials, government employees, and university professors. A lobbyist can go to these contacts for information or help.
Most lobbyists specialize in one area, such as taxes, transportation, health issues, or the environment. Specializing allows a lobbyist to become an expert in one particular field. Legislators don't have time to become experts on all of the bills that they have to consider. They turn to lobbyists to inform them about issues and to answer their questions.
The majority of a lobbyist's time is not spent talking with legislators, but in doing research, analyzing legislation, following bills through the process, attending hearings, and working with others interested in the same issues.
In the past, lobbyists had no rules governing their conduct. They could take legislators out to a sports event, treat them to an elaborate dinner, and give them gifts. Many times this would “buy” an elected official's vote. This sort of extravagant entertaining gave lobbyists a bad reputation. Laws reforming lobbying practices made these activities illegal. Lobbyists can no longer offer anything that might be considered buying a vote. In addition, state lobbyists must register with their secretary of state, and congressional lobbyists must register with Congress. Lobbyists file quarterly reports showing any expenditures over $500.
Lobbyists work long hours, especially when the legislators are in session. They also have to find time to research their areas of interest. Sometimes a lobbyist will spend several years working on one issue. Despite the hard work, many lobbyists find their jobs rewarding and like being able to make a difference in people's lives.
Salaries for lobbyists vary greatly. Those working for large lobbying firms that have many clients can make $50,000 or more per year. Those working for small nonprofit groups make considerably less.
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