For example, an electrical company pressuring the government to vote against a political proposal that should tax this very same company.

In what way do political parties gain with the pressure of lobbies and vice versa.

  • I am not sure I am understanding your question correctly. What do you mean with "gain" in that context? Are you asking what incentive political parties have to listen to lobbyists? – Philipp Nov 28 '17 at 14:50
  • @Philipp I mean, if politicians get money or other benefits out of the lobbyists. – guerrier Nov 28 '17 at 14:58

Lobbies have various ways to influence politicians in ways which are beneficial for both sides:

  • Common sense arguments: "Our profit margin is already small enough. That additional tax would bankrupt us. When we go bankrupt, we have to take our electricity grid offline. Millions of people will be out of electricity. Are you sure your constituents want that?". The politician would have to decide if these arguments have merit or are just general whining. But in case they are correct, the politician would be glad that he listened to the lobbyists. Keep in mind that this kind of political influence is not "free" for the lobbyists. They will often invest quite a lot of money into studies and research to collect proof that their arguments are correct. That's what political think tanks are for.
  • Backroom deals which benefit everyone: "When you forget about that new tax, we will promise to create another 1000 new jobs in your voting district. Those welfare savings and income tax will make even more money for the state treasury." Listening to lobbyists and negotiating with them can provide solutions to problems which are even better than those which could be achieved with legislation alone.
  • Backroom deals which benefit just the politician: "You know there is an election coming up next year. We have not yet decided which candidate to support with a generous campaign donation. And if you keep supporting that tax proposal, it certainly won't be you." No, it can not be denied that lobbyists also use campaign donations in ways which can look a lot like bribery. But keep in mind that giving money to a politician's private account is indeed illegal bribery in most democratic countries. Such deals have already gotten politicians and lobbyists into prisons. But donating to their campaign or party treasury is usually not illegal, because those funds can only be used for political purposes.
  • You missed out "we will advertize the issue against you next campaign! Politician X voted for a proposal that removes 1000 jobs from the district!" – user4012 Nov 28 '17 at 15:23
  • "But donating to their campaign or party treasury is usually not illegal, because those funds can only be used for political purposes" Why can't it be considered bribing the party then? – Sebastianb Nov 28 '17 at 16:22
  • @Sebastianb That's more of a philosophical question. But usually bribery is considered bad because someone benefits privately. Parties are public institutions which are supposed to represent the will of a faction of the people. Nobody has a direct private benefit when a party receives money (unless they are embezzling, which is another crime). Supporting a party is usually considered a form of speech. – Philipp Nov 28 '17 at 16:28
  • yeah, I guess you're right. I can see corporations benefiting privately, though. I can even see it as extorsion: "don't pass this law or we will withdraw our monetary support in the next campaign" – Sebastianb Nov 28 '17 at 16:34
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    Equating "common sense" with propaganda might sometimes itself be propaganda; a degrading confusion either way. Bribery needn't only refer to the kind that's clumsy or offensive enough to prosecute; there's the polite kind, where a politician is paid a princely sum for reciting from their ghost-written combination autobiography and campaign advertisement, or pretending to advise a biased but generous corporate sponsor, etc... – agc Nov 30 '17 at 3:20

This answer will deal with rules specific to the United States. Other countries have different details, but many of the patterns may be similar. Or not.

Direct donations

FEC rules or see the Citizen's Guide.

Lobbyists may make donations. Of course, they are limited for individuals in the US to $2700 per candidate per election per individual.

Lobbyists may operate PACs. They can only donate $5000 per PAC per calendar year per individual, and each PAC may only donate $5000 per candidate per election year.

Lobbyists may donate money to party committees. Annually, $33,900 for the national committee and $10,000 for the state (usually combined with the local committees, as they aren't independent of the state).

Bundling and endorsements

Lobbyists may collect individual contributions from employees of their clients (or stockholders) and forward them to parties and candidates. The aboveboard way to do this is to have a gathering (dinner party, etc.) where they list the candidates and organizations to whom to donate. People can then voluntarily choose to write checks.

Less aboveboard, a company that gives bonuses can use the donations (large ones are reported publicly) to determine how much bonus to pay each employee. Of course, this is illegal, so they can't actually say this. Or they can use donations to determine who to promote. Again illegal but hard to catch. Did Goldman Sachs endorse Hillary Clinton? Or was she just popular with that group of people?

If the lobbyist collects the checks and forward them appropriately, this is called bundling. The lobbyists bundle the checks together so that they can say something like, "Here's $54,000 from people that want you to support the fossil fuel lobby." Otherwise, this is just a form of endorsement.


Bribes are of course illegal. The problem is that it is really hard to prove bribery. It's not enough to prove that person A gave money to politician B. That can be done legally. It's not enough to prove that politician B did something for person A. That can be done legally, particularly if A is a constituent. It's not enough to prove that A paid B and B did a favor for A. You have to prove that the reason why B did a favor for A was that A paid B.

To give you an idea of what's required, look at Bill Jefferson. They recorded him agreeing to take money in return for help getting a product purchased by the Defense Department and several foreign countries. Without that recording, even the $90,000 in cash hidden in his freezer might not have gotten him convicted.

Bribery is ultimately unnecessary. Bundling has much the same effect and is legal. They can't say, "We're only giving you this money if you agree to vote our way on this bill." But they can say things like, "We've been big supporters in the past. Don't expect that to continue unless you vote our way on this bill." Or "We're planning our political donations now, and we like yes on this bill." Most politicians would get the message.


Despite the name, a "SuperPAC" isn't actually a PAC but a type of nonprofit. These organizations may spend an unlimited amount on advertising or other electioneering activities favoring a candidate or party. They may receive unlimited anonymous donations from individuals and corporations (individual states may require donor identification but the federal government does not). They may not donate anything directly to candidates and parties and they aren't allowed to coordinate with candidates or parties. This makes them hard for lobbyists to operate (the whole point of a lobbyist is to coordinate legislative activity with politicians), but these are constantly in the news.

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    Re "ultimately unnecessary": To lower costs, the humble spirit of graft devised many euphemistic rituals and ruses, (like bundling), to wear as a disguise. Some disguises and camouflage are admirable works of painstaking craftsmanship and natural selection. We should admire graft's disguises adversarially, like a biologist admires a mosquito or a complex virus, not out of a perverse wish to be a mosquito, but to understand it, and defend from it. – agc Nov 30 '17 at 4:18

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