United States Senate
 GO
United States Senate Senators HomeCommittees HomeLegislation & Records HomeArt & History HomeVisitor Center HomeReference Home
United States Senate
Votes
Nominations
Calendars & Schedules
Congressional Records & Journals
Treaties
Bills & Resolutions
Appropriations
Legislative Process
Public Disclosure
Active Legislation


  
 
 

Lobbyists


Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: "Lobbyists" September 28, 1987 (updated 1989)

Introduction

On March 21, 1980, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd launched a unique historical project – an unprecedented series of addresses on the Senate's history and operations. Over the next decade, Senator Byrd delivered more than one hundred speeches on topics ranging from a review of the Senate's impeachment powers to a survey of how the Senate has been portrayed in literature and film.  These essays, later revised and edited, became the centerpiece of the Senate's 1989 bicentennial commemoration. The following essay, originally delivered on September 28, 1987, was updated in 1989 for inclusion in volume II.  For footnotes and information on sources, see the print edition.

"Lobbyists" September 28, 1987 (updated 1989)

Mr. President, in 1869, a newspaper correspondent published this vivid description of a monster in the Capitol building: "Winding in and out through the long, devious basement passage, crawling through the corridors, trailing its slimy length from gallery to committee room, at last it lies stretched at full length on the floor of Congress-this dazzling reptile, this huge, scaly serpent of the lobby." What was this awful creature? It was intended as the embodiment of lobbyists, who were proliferating in the years after the Civil War and who, many believed, were corrupting the Congress. Even today, the media tend to portray legislative lobbyists as some form of monster. And yet, we realize that lobbyists play an important and essential role in the legislative process. Today, in my continuing series of addresses on the history of the Senate, I shall attempt to penetrate some of the myths and mysteries surrounding lobbyists over the past two hundred years.

Citizens of the United States, whether as individuals or in organizations, have both direct and indirect interest in legislation considered by Congress. They make their interests known by electing sympathetic senators and representatives and by petitioning for or against specific legislation. This is a right guaranteed them by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Roy Swanstrom, in his study of the Senate's early years, noted that the first petitions and memorials came from a variety of groups: shipwrights concerned about the effects of the tariff; merchants desiring an end to the tax on molasses; federal clerks requesting an increase in pay; military officers who sought reimbursement for personal funds expended during the Revolution; as well as from chambers of commerce, taxpayers' committees, veterans, and even state legislatures. In those days, the Senate might appoint a committee to consider a petition or refer it to a committee already dealing with similar legislation. Petitions that ran contrary to the wishes of the majority were tabled or pigeonholed in some way and forgotten.

With so many interests competing for congressional attention, petitioners sought ways of attracting notice. In April 1798, on the motion of Senator Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire, a large committee of Philadelphia citizens was admitted to the Senate floor to present a petition in support of the administration's policies toward France. Senator Humphrey Marshall of Kentucky objected to this procedure and won passage of a resolution to prohibit individuals or delegations from presenting such petitions in such a way in the future. Entertainment was another means adopted from the start by those interested in influencing legislation. During the First Congress, Pennsylvania Senator William Maclay wrote in his diary that New York merchants employed "treats, dinners, attentions" to delay passage of a tariff bill. Of the influences and pressures brought upon the members regarding legislation, Maclay wrote:

In the Senate Chamber this Morning Butler said he heard a Man say he would give [John] Vining a 1,000 Guineas for his Vote. but added I question whether he would do so in fact- so do I too, for he might get it for a 10th part of the Sum. I do not know that pecuniary influence has actually been Used, but. I am certain, That every other kind of management. has been practised, and Every tool at Work that could be thought of. Officers of Government, Clergy Citizens [Order of] Cincinnati, and every Person under the influence of the Treasury.

Lobbyists have been at work from the earliest days of the Congress. William Hull was hired by the Virginia veterans of the Continental army to lobby for additional compensation for their war services. In 1792, Hull wrote to other veterans' groups, recommending that they have their "agent or agents" cooperate with him during the next session to pass a compensation bill. In 1795, a Philadelphia newspaper described the way lobbyists waited outside Congress Hall to "give a hint to a Member, teaze or advise as may best suit."

As early as the closing years of the eighteenth century, there were widespread suspicions that large, well-financed interests were receiving special attention from the government. During the first half century of our Republic, the most distrusted and despised special interest was the Bank of the United States, a private bank chartered by the federal government. Critics of the bank pointed out that a number of sitting senators served as its directors, a clear case of conflict of interest. James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1791, "Of all the shameful circumstances of this business, it is among the greatest to see the members of the Legislature [Congress] who were most active in pushing this Job, openly grasping its emoluments." On December 21, 1833, Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts wrote from Washington to the bank's president, Nicholas Biddle: "Since I arrived here, I have had an application to be concerned, professionally, against the Bank, which I have declined, of course, although I believe my retainer has not been renewed, or refreshed, as usual. If it be wished that my relation to the bank should be continued, it may be well to send me the usual retainer.” That is stating it plainly, isn't it?

The perception of impropriety that the bank fostered was a contributing factor to President Andrew Jackson's decision to remove government funds and to veto attempts to extend its charter.

In the early days, tariff legislation had the greatest impact on society as a whole and stimulated the greatest amount of lobbying. It is interesting to note, in light of the press' traditional suspicion of lobbyists, that some of Washington's first newspaper correspondents were, in certain respects, tariff lobbyists. Merchants and shippers in New England, and planters in the South, sent correspondents to the capital to serve as representatives throughout the congressional session, to keep them informed on the progress of tariff legislation, and to assist their representatives in fighting for their interests. This arrangement is not surprising when we consider that a critical aspect of lobbying has been to supply information, both to members of Congress and to those interested in stopping or promoting a bill.

Complementing the freewheeling attitude which many government officials in those days took towards the relationship between public office and private enterprise was the reality of living and working in the Washington of the early nineteenth century. The embryonic capital bore no resemblance to the cosmopolitan centers of Philadelphia and New York, let alone the great European capitals. The city was dusty and malaria-ridden in the summer, damp and cold in the winter. Social and cultural amenities were few. Many senators left their families at home and took rooms in the boardinghouses that surrounded the Capitol Building. It was an atmosphere in which the so-called "social lobby" could thrive, and thrive it did. Clubs, brothels, and "gambling dens" became natural habitats of the lobbyists, since these institutions were occasionally visited by members of Congress, who, far from home, came seeking good food, drink, and agreeable company.

The excesses of ante-bellum. lobbying reached their height in the early 1850's when Samuel Colt sought passage of a bill to extend his patent for seven years. A congressional investigation later disclosed that, in addition to staging lavish entertainments for wavering senators, "more than one" of Colt's agents "have at different times presented pistols to certain members," including "a handsome Colt pistol, as a present," to a representative's "little son, only eleven or twelve years of age."

The select committee's report noted that:

The money has been used, as the evidence shows, in paying the costs and charges incurred in getting up costly and extravagant entertainments, to which ladies and members of Congress and others were invited, with a view of furthering the success of this measure. The ladies, having been first duly impressed with the importance of Colt's pistol extension by presents of Parisian gloves, are invited to these entertainments; and the evidence shows that, while there, members of Congress are appealed to by them to favor this particular measure.

Colt's principal lobbyist was characterized by the committee as having adopted the rule that

To reach the heart or get the vote,
The surest way is down the throat.

-- an altogether appropriate epigram for the lobbying of the period.

The House report also referred to a practice in those days whereby certain persons affiliated with the press were allowed to obtain seats on the House floor. The report revealed that these persons, in contravention of promises to the contrary and in violation of House rules, would lobby the representatives concerning such matters as claims or bills. According to the following excerpt from the report:

The evidence shows another important fact, that the letter-writers for the daily press who have been admitted to desks on the floor of the House are very generally regarded as the most efficient agents who can be employed by those who have measures to advance. Although these letter-writers, before they can obtain a seat within the House, are required to give a personal pledge of honor that they are not "employed as agents to prosecute any claim pending before Congress," yet we find that, in utter disregard of this pledge and its spirit, they have been employed in many of the railroad, patent, and other schemes which have engaged the attention of Congress during the present session.

Mr. President, this practice has been discontinued, as we all know.

By the 1850's, railroad construction, largely underwritten by federal land grants and other subsidies, further increased the presence of lobbyists in Congress. Their numbers multiplied geometrically with the outbreak of the Civil War and with the industrial development that followed. Lobbying, as both an institution and a danger, impressed itself most strongly upon the public conscience in the decade after the war. As Professor David J. Rothman has written, “In the 1870's, when party did not yet superintend the course of Senate affairs, lobbying for the first time became a vital element in government." Lobbyists like William E. Chandler accepted large retainers from a great number of railroads seeking government assistance. The corporations themselves often resented the many lobbyists, whom they called "strikers," seeking their money. Railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington, for whom the city of Huntington, West Virginia, was named, complained: "The damned strikers Robbyists] are so numerous that if we should endeavor to put the matter [of purchasing government property in San Francisco's harbor] before Congress this session I have no doubt it would cost us more than it would be worth. . . . The Strikers, or Third House members, are very quick and hungry in Washington this winter."

Businesses hired lobbyists to gain a sympathetic hearing for their legislative aims.

Because a single lobbyist often did not possess wide enough contacts, they were forced to hire several different agents. Collis Huntington estimated that his rival railroad operator, Tom Scott, had hired two hundred lobbyists for the congressional session of 1876-1877. The cost of so many agents was enormous, and the results were far from certain. Tom Scott, for instance, did not win congressional support for his railroad. Businessmen felt caught in a bind; not always certain that a lobbyist possessed the influence he claimed, an entrepreneur, nevertheless, feared that not hiring him might cause lucrative government support to slip away. The correspondence of leading businessmen is filled with complaints about lobbying costs, including hotel accommodations, entertainment, cigars, and champagne. According to Professor Rothman, railroad passes were freely distributed in the effort to win supporters. Again, Huntington complained: "When in Washington, I had to give out many passes, mostly at the request of Senators and Members of Congress, and since Congress adjourned I think we have averaged six letters per day from Senators and Members of Congress asking for passes over the road. . . . This giving free passes is all wrong." Sometimes it also meant direct payments to members of Congress. Collis Huntington argued, "We must take care of our friends."

Periodically, lobbying scandals broke into the press and caught public attention. The Cr6dit Mobilier scandal of 1872 revealed that a member of the House, Representative Oakes Ames, had distributed railroad stocks to senators and representatives in return for their support for railroad legislation. In 1883, when the chief lobbyist of the Southern Pacific Railroad died, his widow sued the company for a larger property settlement. To support her case, she introduced his correspondence as evidence. Newspapers seized upon the material and reprinted it widely, further muddying the reputations of lobbyists as a whole.

By far the most famous lobbyist of the era was Sam Ward, popularly known as the "King of the Lobby." Ward was originally hired by Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch, who was trying to restore order and stability to the nation's finances after the Civil War. The treasury secretary wanted to retire the $450 million in greenback currency issued during the war, but Congress feared the political consequences of such a deflationary action. In order to educate legislators on the need to improve the nation's credit, Sam Ward gave dinners. As his biographer explained, Ward "proceeded upon the comfortable axiom that the shortest distance between a pending bill and a Congressman's ‘aye’ lies through his stomach." Washington was not at that time a city of first-class restaurants. Many congressmen still lived and ate in boardinghouses, tellingly named “messes,” and even official dinners were often dismal affairs. Ward, however, provided the finest foods and wines, and the most sparkling conversation and entertainment, at a rumored cost to the Treasury Department of twelve thousand dollars!

Ward worked for other clients as well--individuals, corporations, and foreign governments--helping them move bills through Congress and promoting their claims before government bureaus. To demonstrate his influence, he frequently used the stationery of congressional committees. And he always kept stores of wine, liquor, and cigars to make friends and influence people. Ward could often be found at Welcher's restaurant, coaching its cook, and serving as unofficial maitre d’hotel for congressional customers. Ward would escort legislators to a table, recommend the best items on the menu, and seat them near those who had business to conduct.

Sam Ward managed to steer clear of suspicion in the multitude of lobbying scandals of the era, but, in 1875, he was called to testify before a congressional investigation of subsidies for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Newspapers charged that Ward had distributed over a hundred thousand dollars to bribe correspondents, House doorkeepers, and other federal officials. Ward defended his actions and gave us his insights into Gilded Age lobbying. Here are excerpts from his candid and humorous testimony:

This business of lobbying, so called, is as precarious as fishing in the Hebrides. You get all ready, your boats go out--suddenly there comes a storm, and away you are driven.... Everybody who knows anything about Washington, knows that ten times, aye, fifty times, more measures are lost than are carried; but once in a while a pleasant little windfall of this kind recompenses us, who are always toiling here, for the disappointments. I am not ashamed--I do not say I am proud, but I am not ashamed--of the occupation. It is a very useful one. In England it is a separate branch of the legal profession; there they have parliamentary lawyers who do no other business. There the committees sit all day to hear these lawyers, and they sit in Parliament at night, whereas here committees are only allowed to sit for an hour and a half; so that it is very hard to get through four thousand bills in a session. The disappointments are much more numerous than the successes. I have had many a very pleasant "contingent" knocked away when everything appeared prosperous and certain, and I would not insure any bill, if I were paid fifty per cent, to secure its passage. . . .

I was retained, I suppose, because "the king's name is a tower of strength," and I am known as the "King of the Lobby." . . .

We who are of the "regular army" know when we are whipped. But gentlemen of little experience come down here, and peg on ... until the end of the session, and never understand when they had better go home.... To introduce a bill properly, to have it referred to the proper committee, to see that some member in that committee understands its merits, to attend to it, to watch it, to have a counsel to go and advocate it before the committee, to see that members of the committee do not oversleep on the mornings of important meetings, to watch for the coming in of the bill to Congress day after day, week after week, to have your men on hand a dozen times, and to have them as often disappointed; to have one of those storms which spring up in the Adriatic of Congress, until your men are worried, and worn, and tired, and until they say to themselves that they will not go up to the Capitol today--and then to have the bird suddenly flushed, and all your preparations brought to naughtthese, these are some of the experiences of the lobby.

Some of the lobbying techniques of the Gilded Age were not unlike those of today, with speeches supplied, analyses prepared, opposition arguments suggested, personal contacts with key members, appearances-before committees, and grassroots campaigns generated by lobbyists. Time and circumstance have conspired to render other scenes from the Gilded Age unfamiliar to the current observer. Gone are the elegant parlors of society matrons where senators and representatives were lavishly entertained by winsome female lobbyists. Ben: Perley Poore wrote, for example:

. . . the most adroit lobbyists belong to the gentler sex . . . . They are retained with instructions to exert their influence with designated Congressmen.

To enable them to do their work well, they have pleasant parlors, with works of art and bric-abrac. . . . Every evening they receive, and in the winter their blazing wood fires are often surrounded by a distinguished circle. Some treat favored guests to a game of euchre, and as midnight approaches there is always an adjournment to the dining-room, where a choice supper is served[:] A cold game pie, broiled oysters, charmingly mixed salad, and one or two light dishes, . . . with iced champagne or Burgundy at blood heat. Who can blame a Congressman for leaving the bad cooking of his hotel or boarding-house, with the absence of all home comforts, to walk into the parlor web which the cunning spider-lobbyist weaves for him?

In 1869, The Nation defined a lobbyist as "a man whom everybody suspects. . . . and whose employment by those who have bills before a legislature is only resorted to as a disagreeable necessity." That sentiment was repeated throughout the literature of the Gilded Age. As we have seen in Chapter 21, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner's novel The Gilded Age, which gave its name to the era, told the story of Colonel Beriah Sellers' tawdry efforts to lobby for a bill that would make him rich.

Subsequent novels and scholarly studies of the nineteenth-century Congress have tended to portray the most venal aspects of lobbying. By contrast, Margaret Susan Thompson's The “Spider Web ", Congress and Lobbying in the Age of Grant argued that lobbyists became the scapegoats for other congressional ills, and that, even during the Gilded Age, lobbyists performed beneficial services. She wrote that Congress was unprepared for the vast economic changes occurring in the nation and needed all the help it could get. As the predominant branch of government, Congress had overextended itself. Henry Adams asserted that "Congress is inefficient, and shows itself more and more incompetent, as at present constituted, to wield the enormous powers that are forced upon it." Turnover of membership was high; levels of parliamentary expertise were correspondingly low. Neither house had formal floor leadership. There was practically no staff, either for committees or for individual members.

At the same time, pressures on the federal government were steadily increasing. The more crowded the congressional agenda became-with issues of finance, industry, internal improvements, and international relations-the more interests demanded to be heard. This is the nub of what political scientists call "pluralistic democracy." Although we often hear a hue and cry about "special interests,” everyone, in a sense, belongs to a multitude of these interests: we are defined by our gender, race, age, ethnicity, religion, economic status, educational background, and ideological bent. Some groups are better funded or better organized than others: corporate interests, organized labor, New Right political action committees. Some groups, especially the very young, the very old, the very poor, are the least organized and the least able to make their needs heard. Nevertheless, they all have a "special interest" in congressional actions. Members of Congress, of course, attempt to represent all of the various interests within their constituencies, but they must establish some priorities. Lobbyists attempt to shape those priorities by reminding them of the needs of specific groups.

Thus, Margaret Thompson defined lobbying as "the process by which the interests of discrete clienteles are represented within the policy-making system." She defined lobbyists as "representatives who act concurrently with, and supplement the capabilities of, those who are selected at the polls. Lobbyists fill roles that in many ways are comparable to those of legislators: helping to transmit and obtain satisfaction for demands upon the government, thereby advancing the substantive interests of those whom they have taken it upon themselves to serve."

What, then, is the problem? Money lies at its root. A group's chances of being heard were improved by hiring a lobbyist, which cost money. The more money available, the higher the number and caliber of lobbyists who could be hired. As a lobbyist in the 1870's, William E. Chandler of New Hampshire, who later became a cabinet member and a senator, drew the unheard-of retainer of ten thousand dollars from Jay Gould, and Gould was not his only client. As Thompson pointed out, "Establishing access, particularly if one's demand was individual and basically indistinguishable from hordes of others, was time-consuming, debilitating, and practically impossible unless someone was continuously on the scene to oversee it." She noted that, during the Forty-third Congress from 1873 to 1875, 2,666 private pension bills were introduced, and only 441, or 16.6 percent, were enacted. How did the members of the Invalid Pension Committee determine which pensions to accept and which to reject? Personal contact improved one's chances. Those who could afford it hired lobbyists; the less affluent prowled the halls of Congress for themselves.

This type of self-lobbyist was described by the Washington Evening Star in 1891. Noting that visitors to the Capitol searched for the beautiful female claims agent they had read about in novels, the Star suggested that the real case was a poorly clad, nervous, wistful, and frightened woman. She has some claim before Congress, perhaps, or is interested in some other measure. She goes to see the members or senators because she thinks it will help her interests and not because she wishes to. It is as disagreeable to her to visit them as it is to them to receive her visit. She shrinks at a rough word and she is grateful for kind usage. This is one kind of female lobbyist, and if she succeeds in getting anything it is because men take pity on her.

Far more significant were the professional lobbyists, hired by others to handle their claims or to promote their legislative causes. The Star broke them into three categories. One was the occasional lobbyist, who came to Washington to promote a certain measure and then went home. Largely inexperienced, these occasional lobbyists were the least effective. Then, there were the "clever fellows with smooth tongues," who peddled their familiarity with Congress to any individual or group that could afford to hire them. "If they are not employed by one side, they will work on the other side in order to be bought off." That is, wealthy interest groups would pay them not to work against their legislative aims. Finally, there was a third group which the Star termed "the worst of all." These were the agents of large corporations and monopolies. "They have unlimited means and they usually employ lesser lobbyists under them. They are often fine men in other respects and men of talent. They do unquestionably exert an influence on legislation and they resort not only to bad means to accomplish their ends, but to diplomatic means as well. These are the most dangerous lobbyists of all."

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the practice of lobbying shifted from the former to the latter type of agent described by the Star. As the issues themselves became more complex, they required more constant and sophisticated attention. In many ways, the lobbying techniques that developed during this period are still with us. Lobbyists analyzed bills, prepared arguments in defense of their clients, drafted speeches, contacted committee members, and orchestrated grassroots campaigns in favor of their bills.

Now, we accept these lobbying tools as legitimate. Back then, they were suspect, in part, because they were new and, in part, because interests and lobbyists were indiscreet with their use of money to sway votes. As lobbying became perceived as dangerous and a corrupting influence, Congress responded with a variety of reforms. The first effort to regulate lobbyists took place in 1876 when the House required all lobbyists to register with the clerk of the House. In 1879, members of the press galleries in the Senate and House chambers followed suit. They proposed rules of admission to the galleries that would bar all lobbyists posing as journalists, and they created a Standing Committee of Correspondents to police the galleries. Those rules, and that committee, are still in operation today.

Despite the criticism of lobbyists, nineteenth century senators came to appreciate the help they could offer. Especially in defending the high protective tariff, which directly affected numerous industries, senators turned to the representatives of those industries. Senator Francis Warren of Wyoming knew that as soon as he stood up to defend the high tariff on wool, his opponents would fire back with statistics against him. "I want facts to build up my arguments," Warren told a lobbying group. One representative of the sugar industry, under investigation for its lobbying practices, protested, "How can a Senator know about a great question unless he keeps himself informed by those who have devoted their lifetime to it and have a lifelong interest in it?

The growing importance of lobbying drew many former members of Congress into the profession. They held several important advantages: they understood the legislative process; they knew key members of Congress; and they had access to the floors of the chambers. In fact, by 1897, there were so many former members mingling on the floor of the Senate in behalf of clients that Maine Senator Eugene Hale proposed barring from the floor any nonsenator who had an interest in any pending legislation. The rule was not adopted .

The turn of the century saw the rapid consolidation of American industry and the formation of "'trusts," which offered a new challenge to congressional government. Between 1897 and 1904, the number of trusts in the United States grew from 12 to 318 (representing a consolidation of more than five thousand manufacturing plants). These giant trusts, including Standard Oil, American Tobacco, and U.S. Steel, could all afford extensive lobbying in Washington. They seemed to carry the most weight with the United States Senate-the house of Congress not then directly elected by the people. A number of senators were closely identified with major trusts. Editorial cartoonists began picturing the Senate chamber filled with overblown figures representing corporate interests; newspapers referred to the Senate as a "Millionaire's Club"; and David Graham Phillips published his muckraking series, The Treason of the Senate, naming senators allegedly beholden to corporate interests.

Progressive presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson took advantage of these popular images of lobbyists and business corruption as leverage for their reform legislation. In seeking public support for lower tariff rates, President Wilson trained his fire on the lobby with this sharply worded attack: "Washington has seldom seen so numerous, so industrious, or so insidious a body. The newspapers are being filled with paid advertisements calculated to mislead the judgment of public men not only, but also the public opinion of the country itself. There is every evidence that money without limit is being spent to sustain this lobby, and to create an appearance of a pressure of public opinion antagonistic to some of the chief items of the tariff bill. . . . It is thoroughly worth the while of the people of this country to take knowledge of this matter. Only public opinion can check and destroy it." Here is an excerpt from one of Wilson's press conferences in 1913:

WILSON: ... I should think you [reporters] were missing a lot of stories about the extraordinary lobbying in this town at this time.

QUESTION: There is a good deal written about it, Mr. President.

WILSON: Somehow you haven't got hold of it so that the country could notice it. This town is swarming with lobbyists, so you can't throw bricks in any direction without hitting one, . . . That is the most concerted and as concentrated an effort, I dare say, as has ever been made to influence governmental legislation by the pressure of private interests....

QUESTION: Do you refer especially to sugar?

WILSON: Sugar, wool-those in particular, Those have the biggest lobbies....

QUESTION: I think the country knows pretty well that lobbyists are here.

WILSON: I know, but. . . . [t]here is a good deal more than the usual scenery in view. . . .

QUESTION: You mean, Mr. President, there is a corrupt lobby here?

WILSON: I don't know that they could approach Congress in that way, but [there is] just a systematic misrepresentation of the facts.

Wilson's prodding of the press produced the headlines he desired--and helped the Democrats achieve a sharply lowered tariff. The New York World ran an expose on the questionable lobbying, tactics of an agent for the National Association of Manufacturers, which led the House of Representatives to launch an investigation. The investigating committee proposed legislation requiring all lobbyists to register with the clerk of the House. Although the House supported the bill, the Senate was not yet ready to go along. Slowly but surely, lobbying reforms were enacted. Democrats and progressive Republicans prevailed on the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate lobbying activities in 1913, and each senator publicly revealed any personal finances that might benefit from a change in the tariff. In 1919, Congress prohibited any lobbying effort with appropriated funds. This move was designed to prevent agency officials from conducting public relations campaigns, such as stimulating letters and telegrams, in order to influence the passage of legislation.

By the 1920"s, Washington lobbying had begun to develop many of the features we associate with it today. Lobbying broadened its scope beyond financial and commercial interests, and the free-lance lobbyist was supplanted by collective action in the form of membership associations, which had been growing and developing since the beginning of the century. In addition, lobbying techniques began to change. For example, the telephone, telegraph, and radio intensified the development of grassroots lobbying.

In 1928, the Senate enacted a bill requiring lobbyists to register with the secretary of the Senate and clerk of the House, but this time the House balked. The movement for some form of regulation gained further impetus during a lobbying scandal the next year. Newspapers revealed that Connecticut Senator Hiram Bingham had placed on the Senate payroll, as a clerk, Charles L. Eyanson, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Manufacturers Association. Moreover, Eyanson accompanied Senator Bingham into closed sessions of the Senate Finance Committee, which was then drafting the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. After an investigation by the Judiciary Committee, the Senate censured Bingham by a vote of 54 to 22, condemning his action as "contrary to good morals and senatorial ethics" and tending "to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute." The censure, however, did not spur any legislative response to lobbying.

In 1930, a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee continued investigating lobbying practices. Among the senators involved was Hugo Black of Alabama, who was not a member of the Judiciary Committee. Because Black was concerned about lobbying efforts regarding the private development of Muscle Shoals (which later became the public power program known as the Tennessee Valley Authority), Chairman George Norris of Nebraska invited him to sit with the committee during the investigation. The hearings were often stormy. At one point, a witness called Senator Black a "contemptible cur" and the senator responded, "I'll see you outside about that." The investigation derailed corporate efforts to exploit Muscle Shoals but achieved no consensus on how to deal with lobbying. The experience, however, formed strong opinions in the mind of Hugo Black, who five years later reexamined Congress' "hidden persuaders."

By 1935, Senator Black had acquired a reputation as a persistent and talented Congressional investigator. For years, he had been advocating that lobbyists publicly register their names, objectives, salaries, and monthly expenses. Then, in the spring of 1935, lobbyists for public utility companies led a particularly furious assault on the Wheeler-Rayburn bill that was designed to break up public utility holding companies. The mountain of letters and telegrams that covered Capitol Hill bore all the evidence of an orchestrated campaign, inspiring Black to launch an investigation.

The hearings made headlines when Senator Black called in Western Union officials, who testified that the 816 telegrams one representative received were all dictated and paid for by a lobbyist for the Associated Gas and Electric Company. Evidence of large payments for propaganda activities was also uncovered. In a radio address, Black told listeners that Americans had a constitutional right to petition, but that no "sordid or powerful group" had a right to present its views "behind a mask concealing the identity of that group." He denounced the "highpowered, deceptive, telegram-fixing, letterframing, Washington-visiting" utility company lobby, and argued that funds for such activities came from citizens' utility bills. "Just contemplate," said Senator Black, "what a good time people are having on your money in Washington!"

As a result of his efforts, the Public Utilities Holding Company Act was amended to provide for registration of all company agents. Black also introduced legislation for registration of all lobbyists, which passed the Senate and House in different versions. Although efforts to reconcile the two bills failed, Congress was willing to regulate lobbying on an industry-by-industry basis, adding registration provisions to the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 and the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. At the same time, many states enacted lobbying disclosure laws.

Immediately after World War II, the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congressstudied ways to make Congress more efficient. During the course of its hearings, the joint committee heard loud complaints about lobbying pressures on Congress, and several groups, including the American Political Science Association, recommended some form of lobbyist disclosure. "Congress is handicapped in the performance of its proper function," the political scientists argued, “. . .by the importunities of special-interest groups which tend to divert legislative emphasis from broad questions of public interest." The joint committee also became concerned that concentrated lobbying efforts by a vocal minority could distort national legislation. The joint committee's staff director, George Galloway, who believed that "the strongest pressures from outside are essentially minority pressures representing particular local interest or specific occupational groups," urged that Congress "turn the spotlight of publicity on lobbying activities."

At the joint committee's recommendation, Congress adopted the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, which became Title III of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. This act defined a lobbyist as any person "who by himself, or through any agent or employee or other persons in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly, solicits, collects, or receives money or any other thing of value to be used principally . . . to influence, directly or indirectly, the passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States." Anyone meeting this description was required to register name, address, salary, and expenses with the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House, and to file quarterly reports on funds received or spent, "to whom and for what purpose" those funds were paid, "the names of newspapers and magazines in which the lobbyist 'caused to be published' articles or editorials," and the proposed legislation the lobbyist was employed to support or oppose. Lobbyists were also required to keep detailed accounts of all contributions of five hundred dollars or more made to members of Congress. Criminal penalties were assigned for any violation of this act.

In 1954, the Supreme Court upheld these lobbying registration requirements in the case of U.S. v. Harriss. The Court defined the legislation narrowly, however, finding that it did not apply to groups or individuals who spent their own money to lobby Congress directly. It also exempted groups whose principal purpose was something other than lobbying. In the Harriss case, the Court reasoned that:

Present-day legislative complexities are such that individual members of Congress cannot be expected to explore the myriad pressures to which they are regularly subjected. Yet full realization of the American ideal of government by elected representatives depends to no small extent on their ability to properly evaluate such pressures. Otherwise the voice of the people may all too easily be drowned out by the voice of special interest groups seeking favored treatment while masquerading as proponents of the public weal. This is the evil which the Lobbying Act was designed to help prevent.

Only two lobbyists have ever been convicted under the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act. In 1956, Republican Senator Francis Case of South Dakota charged that he had been given a $2,500 campaign contribution to influence his vote. A Senate investigation followed, leading to fines of $2,500 and one-year suspended sentences for two Superior Oil Company lobbyists and a $10,000 fine for their employer.

Calls to strengthen the lobbying law were heard in the wake of the Watergate scandal and the activities of Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park. In1976, the Senate drafted and passed more specific definitions of lobbyists and lobbying practices, but intensive lobbying pressures-principally arguing that the new requirements would violate the free speech rights of lobbyists-kept the measure from passing the House. During the 1980's, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee continued to hold hearings on lobbying registration and to consider new approaches to this old issue. In the Ninety-ninth Congress, the committee produced an excellent report, containing a discussion of the history of lobbying. I recommend the report, Congress and Pressure Groups: Lobbying in a Modern Democracy, to all those interested in the subject.

Today's lobbying is more diverse than ever before, with an organized lobby formed, seemingly, around virtually every aspect of American social and economic life. No longer do the lobbying groups come solely from Washington's great law firms and associations. Public relations companies, consulting groups, and specialized accounting, medical, and insurance firms have joined their ranks. All these, and others, engage in a multitude of activities, from raising money for election campaigns to conducting technical studies, with the ultimate goal of influencing the course of legislation and government policy.

Modern technology has made it possible for far-flung group members to stay in almost constant contact with their lobbying representatives in Washington. The explosion in the electronic media and the televising of House and Senate debates have resulted in better-informed interest groups, who, in turn, more readily communicate their message to their members, legislators, and other targets. Congressional offices are frequently flooded with telegrams, telephone calls, letters and postcards (sometimes preprinted), as a "grassroots" campaign moves into full swing, mobilized by one or another interest group on a given issue. Among the most effective interest groups today in bringing such organized pressure to bear upon legislators are the labor unions, the banking interests, the gun lobby, the proIsrael lobby, anti-abortion and freedom-ofchoice groups, civil rights organizations, environmentalists, and consumer interests.

The past fifteen years have witnessed a political phenomenon: the development and proliferation of political action committees (PACs). These PACs are formed by special interest groups for the purpose of funneling contributions to the political campaigns of members of Congress and other officeseekers, and they constitute a subtle but sophisticated form of lobbying. Spiraling campaign costs in this electronic age have made members of Congress increasingly dependent upon PAC contributions. Incumbents and challengers alike, unless they are inordinately wealthy, besiege scores of PACs in every election for money to finance their ravenous advertising and other political expenditures. The demand for funds to wage a successful political campaign has now become so excessive that the average cost of winning a Senate seat in the 1988 election was roughly four million dollars. This means that a senator is forced to raise an average of more than twelve thousand dollars every week over a six-year term in order to remain in public service. And this is just the average! In the more populous states, the cost is far greater-exceeding ten million dollars per candidate in some instances-and the costs are rising with each election year. The threat to our representative form of democracy is clear and needs no elaboration here.

The need for congressional campaign financing reform is, likewise, obvious. But just because it is obvious does not mean that it is easy to attain, as was demonstrated by our inability to enact reform legislation during the One-hundredth Congress. As the then-majority leader, I filed a cloture motion eight times (the most ever) to shut off a filibuster and failed eight times to get the necessary three-fifths majority. The "money chase" has gotten out of hand, and the practice of providing campaign contributions in return for "access" to the policy-making process does nothing to remove the negative image that clouds the legitimate side of interest representation.

Another problem is that special interest groups often wield an influence that is greatly out of proportion to their representation in the general population. This type of lobbying, in other words, is not exactly an equal opportunity activity. One-person, one-vote does not apply when the great body of citizens is under-represented in the halls of Congress compared to the well-financed, highly organized special interest groups, notwithstanding the often plausible objectives of such groups.

It should be clear from my remarks that Congress has always had, and always will have, lobbyists and lobbying. We could not adequately consider our work load without them. We listen to representatives from the broadest number of groups: large and small; single-issue and multi-purposed; citizens groups; corporate and labor representatives; the public spirited and the privately inspired. They all have a service to fulfill. At the same time, the history of this institution demonstrates the need for eternal vigilance to ensure that lobbyists do not abuse their role, that lobbying is carried on publicly with full publicity, and that the interests of all citizens are heard without giving special ear to the best organized and most lavishly funded. As' for the lobbyists themselves, they would probably agree with Sam Ward, the nineteenth-century King of the Lobby, that the disappointments are greater than the successes. They spend many hours and considerable shoe leather trying to convince 535 members of Congress of the wisdom or folly of certain legislation. They face vigorous competition. They still bear the brunt of press criticism and take the blame for the sins of a small minority of their numbers. But they have a job to do, and most of them do it very well indeed. It is hard to imagine Congress without them.

 
  

Lobbying Contact Us

Office of Public Records
232 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C.  20510-7116
(202) 224-0758
Click the Go button to e-mail us.

Go

Thresholds teaser

Current Thresholds


Lobby Disclosure

Learn more about filing lobbying documents with the Office of Public Records.


Lobbying on the Virtual Reference Desk

Additional information on lobbying is available on the Virtual Reference Desk.