Perhaps most importantly, lobbying is about educating our public officials about the multitude of issues they are going to be bombarded with. Being a public official at a federal level is a full-time job. Senators, U.S. representatives, and others have to balance the needs of the job in Washington, DC, with need of keeping in touch with constituents and issues in their home states and districts. A majority of our public officials spend most of their time in their official capacities as public officials in committee meetings, hearing, official functions, and legislative sessions. They rarely have time to do research–or even Google–an issue that is presented to them.
Therefore, many federal–any especially state–legislators depend heavily on lobbyists to education them about issues: who would benefit, who would not; what the pros and cons are; what the background of the issue is; what is happening in other states; and what the other side’s position is. This system works for the most part due to trust. The lobbyists want the legislators to call them for information and to be able to give their spin; the legislators need reliable information quickly in order to make informed decisions. The lobbyists are always on the hook for providing bad information or for misleading the public official. Once burned, a lobbyist will rarely get another chance with that public official–or other public officials if word gets out that the lobbyist was unreliable or deceitful.
The reliance on lobbyists is due to the fact that few public officials have staff to do research about the many issues they will need to know about while serving. There are exceptions, but, for the most part, only large-city majors, some state legislators, and members of Congress have their own staff. The rest of our public officials rely on caucus staff, part-time assistance, volunteers, interns, and lobbyists.
This lack of staff power and time presents a citizen lobbyist with an opportunity to be an expert about his or her issue, that issue’s community, and other tangential issues. At the local level, citizen lobbyists have the opportunity to have the most impact on public officials.