My understanding is that lobbyists meet with politicians, ideally face-to-face, and try to persuade them to vote this way or that way. Lobbying is regulated to prevent outright bribery, so a lobbyist cannot offer a politician a million bucks to vote favorably.

So what is a representative example(s) of what a lobbyist does offer?

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    Excellent Q. One bit of caution about an assumption made here, and on some answers: last US POTUS election cost $14.4B opensecrets.org/news/2021/02/… and the notion that the lobbyist industry, effectively hobbled by regulations, only had marginal involvement in how and to whom all that $$$ got disbursed to, beggars belief. Also, this Q might benefit from a country tag. Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 17:16
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica No, this question benefits from not having a country tag. There are more then enough questions examining lobbying on a country basis. But it is a phenomenon in every political system, and looking for the common reasons is a good topic for political science.
    – ccprog
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 18:42
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    @ccprog which is why I said might. Concerns about lobbying pertain to most democracies. However, not all democracies have the same lobbying regulations. Nor do all democracies permit essentially unlimited campaign funding. So there's arguments on both sides - answers however can be tagged to indicate if they assume any given country. Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 19:36
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    In a perfect world, a lobyist is an accurate representation of a large group of the politician's constituents. The lobbyist offers perspective. Politicians would be remiss if they didn't at least hear them out, since representation is their job.
    – user2578
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 22:35

6 Answers 6


Expertise, information, data.

Politicians have to make complex decisions on things they are not experts in, where they cannot decide by themselves what will be the effects of a decision and which decision is therefore correct, and don't have the time to do intensive research.

So one thing they can do is to have staff do research, reach out to experts and provide summaries.

But it also makes sense to listen to the people who will be affected and who often have the expertise on the topic - and that is who lobbyists represent.

There are many kinds of lobby groups, many of them are not industry-sponsored. Trade unions are lobby groups representing workers. There are environmentalist lobby groups as well.

And yes, of course all of this is distorted by money in various ways.

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    Pretty much spot on. There's a much more detailed version here: amazon.com/Business-America-Lobbying-Corporations-Politicized/… but I think you hit most of the high points.
    – fectin
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 15:09
  • Yet another kind of lobby group represents political subdivisions (e.g. states, cities, tribes, school districts) before larger subdivisions.
    – Lee C.
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 16:57


A lobbyist's task is to convince the politician that a certain position would be advantageous to the politician.

A lobbyist is normally representing a group of people. So part of the deal is "if you adopt this policy, the people who I represent will support you, both at the ballot box and through campaign contributions."

Secondly the lobbyist can argue "If you adopt this policy, it will benefit a wider group of people, and it will be electorally advantageous to you.

For example, a mining consortium may lobby for exploration rights in a certain region. The lobbyist says (in blunt language), "If you use your influence to grant exploration rights, the companies that I represent will be minded to contribute more to your campaign funding. Moreover, mining will create jobs and bring wealth to the region and this will make you more popular among the people who will become more wealthy."

At the same time an environmental NGO might be lobbying "If you use your influence to block exploration rights, the organisations that I represent will be minded to contribute to your campaigns (perhaps not financially but our NGO has influence in the community and we will speak positively about your actions) And moreover, by preserving the beauty of nature you will become more popular among people who value wild spaces"

Essentially, the lobbyist is being an advocate, arguing a case, and trying to persuade the politician that a particular position is the right thing politically.


a lobbyist cannot offer a politician a [big pile of money] to vote favorably.

So what is a representative example(s) of what a lobbyist does offer?

A campaign donation of (or PAC with) a [big pile of money] that is currently unconditioned, and an implication that the business could afford another one in time for the next election if the vote goes favorably.

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    What they do is not precisely a campaign donation. Or, well, they do give donations, but they are still subject to low contribution limits. Instead, they often represent PACs that create their own advertisement in support of a campaign. That, of course, is what really matters to politicians.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 16:23
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    Not only that. Essentially the lobbyist can say: "Do what I want: $1 for your campaign? Don't?: $1 for your opponent's" (in reality many companies fund both sides just to be safe or at least did before sides became so entrenched) The truth probably sits between this answer and the - IMHO - overly rosy view of the 2 most voteds so far. Absent hyper-expensive campaigns lobbyists are a lot less toxic phenomenon. Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 19:41
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    This seems to be saying "your assumption is wrong -- they do offer a big pile of money", but then tries to be too subtle. Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 0:00
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    This answer seems specific to the USA. At least as far as I know, PAC is an exclusively American phenomenon.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 12:44
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    @OwenReynolds There's enough of a difference between "Here's $10K" and "Here's a favourable advert that cost us $10K" that the US doesn't classify it as bribery. In other parts of the world this doesn't work because all campaign spend is capped.
    – Caleth
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 8:32

While lobbyists have other ways of influencing the vote of lawmakers, there are some legal means by which they can make direct contributions to influence their vote.

You are correct in that a lobbyist is legally barred from giving money to lawmakers.

Lobbyists are also legally barred from giving gifts to lawmakers...but, there are exceptions to this rule.

“Anything provided by a registered lobbyist or an agent of a foreign principal to an entity that is maintained or controlled by a Member, . . . officer, or employee of the House.” (House Rule 25, clause 5(e)(1));

“A charitable contribution (as defined in section 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986) made by a registered lobbyist or an agent of a foreign principal on the basis of a designation, recommendation, or other specification of a Member, . . . officer, or employee of the House (not including a mass mailing or other solicitation directed to a broad category of persons or entities), other than a charitable contribution [made in lieu of an honorarium].” (Id., clause 5(e)(2));

“A contribution or other payment by a registered lobbyist or an agent of a foreign principal to a legal expense fund established for the benefit of a Member, . . . officer, or employee of the House.” (Id., clause 5(e)(3)); and

“A financial contribution or expenditure made by a registered lobbyist or an agent of a foreign principal relating to a conference, retreat, or similar event, sponsored by or affiliated with an official congressional organization, for or on behalf of Members, . . . officers, or employees of the House.” (Id., clause 5(e)(4)).

Emphasis mine - and these are not insignificant contributions that can all be made legally with the agreement of the lawmaker and lobbyist.


Food, drinks, friendship, flirting.

Imagine you are a legislator in a state government; you are a random person from a small town. You aren't paid well. A gourmet meal in a capitol city restaurant is a big deal to you. The martinis flow, conversation sparkles, attractive women (or men) seem interested in you. The lobbyists buying your meal are part of a powerful and vibrant social circle that you, a small-town politician, want to feel included in. When you're hung over the next morning, the lobbyist brings coffee and doughnuts to your legislative committee meeting. They appear to care about you.

This is much cheaper than outright bribery. The friendship and flirting is fake to some degree, sure, and you may know that. Yet it is effective. Gifts of food and companionship make us have warm feelings; we are only human. Also, the friendship is sometimes real; lobbyists are human too and need friends like anyone.

Lobbyists are sometimes your former colleagues in government, and they might be your future coworkers if you yourself become a lobbyist. They might know more about how to do your job than you do. You're only in office a few years until you're unelected or term limited, but a lobbyist might have decades of experience. Lobbyists are your work friends, and maybe even your mentors. It's hard not to be influenced by them.

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    I don't think "It's hard not to be influenced by them" is actually true. However "It's easy to be influenced by them if you so choose" might be a better way to nail down the ̶r̶a̶c̶k̶e̶t̶ phenomenon.
    – uhoh
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 1:30

For instance, if you can get 59 others to vote for (blAH), my people will invest £48 million in your constituency, creating perhaps 37,000 jobs

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    Or the threat of losing jobs, something like "we need to cut 10,000 jobs across many sites, I can make sure they aren't cut in your area". Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 14:05
  • @RobbieGoodwin it's just expanding on your original point, not contradicting it.
    – barbecue
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 14:28
  • Well… thanks for or your support. I hope you see I've deleted my minxy little Comment and FYI, I for one would have opened with :Yes, of the threat…" Merry Christmas! Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 19:48

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