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Lobbyists: Part of the Lawmaking Process


Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 8, 2016, on election day.

Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 8, 2016, on election day.

Join us now for Words and Their Stories, a program from VOA Learning English.

Each week, we tell the story of words and expressions used in American English. Some of them are old. Some are new. Together, they form the living and always changing language of the American people.

In the United States during an election, voters go to the polls to cast their votes.

When deciding on which candidate to support, voters consider many things. They consider the issues a candidate supports. They also consider from whom the candidate receives money or campaign donations.

And that brings us to our word for this Words and Their Stories. It’s a political word: “lobby.” “Lobbying” is an attempt to influence a legislator’s vote on a bill.

Lobbying has been a legal activity since the earliest days of the United States.

The First Amendment to the Constitution says that no law may prevent people from petitioning or requesting the government to change things the people feel are wrong.

The right of the people to petition the government has led to lobbying. Lobbying is a type of free speech.

English speakers have used the word “lobby” for almost 400 years.

The lobby was the large room next to the House of Commons in the British Parliament. The lobby was a public area where private citizens could meet with legislators to make requests. So, people who met in the lobby with legislators were called “lobbyists.”

Besides politics, a lobby is also part of many large buildings. Many apartment buildings and hotels have lobbies. You also can meet your friends in the lobby of a theater or concert hall during the intermission of a performance. This, however, does not make you a lobbyist.

During the early years of the United States, lobbyists had a bad name.

There were many cases of lobbyists buying the votes of lawmakers. They were seen by the public as dishonest people who influenced legislation illegally for their own private gain.

In later years, Congress and state legislatures passed laws to restrict dishonest lobbying activities. Lobbyists must register with the government and they must follow many complex regulations.

Legislators and the public began to recognize the value of the job done by honest lobbyists. There are many honest lobbyists who try to influence legislation.

Lobbyists and lobby groups have an active part in making laws.

This Schoolhouse Rock video explain how a bill becomes a law. Lobbyists play an important part.

Lobbyists help inform Congress and the public about problems and issues.

Lobbyists provide technical information about legislative proposals. And lobbyists let lawmakers know whom a bill would help and whom it would hurt.

As the federal government has expanded, so has the number of special interest groups: industries, labor unions, professional organizations, citizens groups and representatives of foreign interests. These special interest groups all lobby Congress.

A lobbyist represents a group and tries to advance its interests. When a bill is proposed that affects that group, a lobbyist meets with lawmakers to explain the group’s position.

There are so many lobbyists that almost every side of an issue is represented. Some experts say the number of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. is decreasing.

However, other experts don’t agree. They claim the number of lobbyists actively lobbying the U.S. government is actually growing. However, to avoid the lobby registration system and regulations these lobbyists have gone underground -- or they do their lobbying out of public view. This does not help their public image.

And that brings us to the end of this Words and Their Stories.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Marilyn Rice Christiano wrote this story. Anna Matteo provided additional information.

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Words and Their Stories

intermission n. a short break between the parts of a performance (such as a play, movie, or concert)

increase v. to become larger or greater in size, amount or number

decrease v. to become smaller in size, amount, number, etc.

underground adv. in or into a place that is hidden or secret; out of the view of the public

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