Common Cause: Lobbying in the Public Interest

Common Cause: Lobbying in the Public Interest

Common Cause: Lobbying in the Public Interest

Common Cause: Lobbying in the Public Interest

Excerpt

A major change in American politics has been the increase in the number and variety of lobbyists in the nation's capital.Over 2500 trade associations and professional groups now have their headquarters in Washington, D.C., and most of them have chosen this location to facilitate their efforts to lobby the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.Other groups, not located in Washington, are represented in the capital by one or more of the thousands of lawyers, public relations experts, and outright "lobbyists" who attempt to influence the policy process for a fee.Such influence is difficult to measure, but it is considerable.

Not only the sheer number of lobbyists has increased; the quality of lobbying has also changed. Particularly in attempts to influence members of Congress, lobbyists now generally try to involve the citizenry, the members' constituents, in their efforts.Of course the involvement of constituents is not entirely new; politically active constituents in the 1920s and 1930s occasionally received requests from interest groups "to write your congressman." But advances in technology have made the coordination of constituents' activity and efforts of lobbyists much easier.Many lobbyists, for instance, have available computerized lists of names and phone numbers of group members that can easily be arranged by congressional district or state. Address labels can be printed automatically, or members can be called by WATS line from a group's headquarters. For example, friends of a member of Congress can be called and urged to telephone the member on behalf of a bill.The overall effect of such efforts is to coordinate the political skills of the Washington lobbyist with messages from "the voters back home." Millions of people have been involved in Washington lobbying efforts in this way, although such political involvement extends only to a relatively small fraction of the citizenry—probably under 5 percent.

A particularly interesting example of the new form of Washington lobby is Common Cause, the lobby founded by author and ex-HEW Secretary John W. Gardner in 1970. This organization concentrates on lobbying for good‐ government measures, such as the public funding of presidential and congressional elections, mandating open meetings of decision-making bodies ("sunshine laws"), regulating the activities of lobbyists, and disclosing nongovernmental . . .

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