The word "lobbying" has a derogatory ring. This is not surprising, for good or bad lobbying occurs at the point of rough transition where interests conflict and judicial processes fall short. Lobbying is a test -- sometimes a raw test -- of the judgment and integrity of political officeholders, both elected and appointed.
Who are the lobbyists? What do they do in order to affect the course of government? How effective are they? Is lobbying a threat to democracy? What can or should be done about lobbying? It is important that these questions be asked and that an effort be made to answer them.
Lobbying has a long history. The word "lobby" appeared in the English language about the middle of the sixteenth century. It was derived from the medieval Latin word lobium, a monastic walk or cloister. Later the word appeared in politics. It was used both to identify a hall or corridor in the British House of Commons and as a collective noun applied to those who frequented such places. It covered those who sought to influence men in office, as well as newspapermen and others looking for news and gossip.
By statute, the American lobbyist today is a person who is paid for his efforts to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States. But the word "lobbyist" is used both in its narrow legal sense and, more broadly, as a description of one who tries to influence not only the legislators but also any other officers or agencies of government.
No one is sure how many lobbyists -- registered and unregistered -- there are in Washington, but they probably number in the thousands. The law that requires registration of lobbyists has loopholes and is not really enforced in many cases.
Some lobbyists represent big interests and well-organized groups.