The word lobbyist gets a bad rap. As the punch line of many jokes, the term is down there with used car salesmen and lawyers. However, lobbyists provide a crucial service for everyone.
A lobbyist is an advocate for issues, both social and business issues. Sometimes you will hear the term “advocacy” used when someone is lobbying or speaking on behalf of an issue or publicly supporting it. When I worked for a non-profit organization, my title was “Advocate.” Yet, my job description was very similar to most folks who “lobby.”
The term lobbyist was coined, as the story goes, inside the Willard Hotel. President Ulysses S. Grant would frequent the hotel for an evening drink or cigar. Political advocates soon caught on and would look to speak with the President while he was there. Grant started calling them “lobbyists” for their hopes of gaining access to him through the hotel lobby.
Today lobbyists represent views and interests on every possible issue and for every kind of person. Whether advocating for librarians, healthcare, housing, cyclists, or taxes, chances are a lobbyist is working on your behalf at city hall, your state capitol or in the halls of our nation’s capitol. As a matter of fact, there are even lobbyists for lobbyists.
As part of our democracy and our Constitution, the First Amendment gives us the right to petition our government. Thousands of Americans have made their requests and desires known over the decades. These requests and wishes are not always from stereotypical big corporations. While corporations do employ and hire lobbyists, so do many smaller companies and organizations through the creation of coalitions and by membership in trade associations.
Advocates work on access to healthcare, transportation safety, gun rights, standardized testing for public schools and more. As a political science major who has worked alongside government for years, I love watching a grassroots momentum grow from a few engaged individuals to a full-blown legislative campaign. A great example of this is TAMSA, Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment. Through initial parent frustration and subsequent grassroots organization, this group has been working tirelessly on behalf of parents, students, and community members since 2011 accomplishing some significant legislative wins.
On the business side, I have seen companies work to change the corporate tax structure to encourage research and development of orphan drugs, for less regulation of cosmetic procedures providing for easier and cheaper access for consumers, and for setting a national standard for nutrition labeling. These examples are a mere fraction of how advocacy, or lobbying, has made a difference.
Advocacy is an exciting and necessary component of our legislative process. Elected officials and their staffs cannot be experts on every single issue. Therefore, it is important that specialists bring the facts and figures before the public officials. By telling each issue’s story, our elected officials can gain a complete picture before they vote. Advocacy is a wonderful part of our democracy.
Before returning to Texas in 1997, Elizabeth worked for U.S. Congressman Bill Archer and also for the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. Following her positions on Capitol Hill, she was employed as Associate Vice President for Newmyer Associates, Inc., in Washington, D.C. After leaving Washington and moving to Austin, Texas, Elizabeth worked for Texas State Senator David Sibley and the Senate Economic Development Committee.
Prior to joining Strategic Public Affairs® in 2002, Elizabeth was the Southeast Texas Public Advocacy Consultant for the American Heart Association. She is involved with the Independent Women’s Forum, the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the Women’s Energy Network, The National Charity League, Houston Alumnae of Kappa Alpha Theta, Leadership Houston, and a sustaining member of the Junior League of Houston. Elizabeth earned a B.A. in Political Science from Texas A&M University in College Station and a Master of Public Administration from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.Elizabeth Biar