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Lobbying is growing in the US – more information may be the best regulation

Lobbying in US politics is not new, but recent revelations over lobbying by Trump election campaign members on behalf of foreign governments and others has brought the practice into renewed focus. Thomas T. Holyoke and Timothy M. LaPira give an overview of a special issue of the journal, Interest Groups & Advocacy, which outlines how lobbying is growing, how its regulation is often not fit for purpose, and how the disclosure of more information may lead to greater accountability among lobbyists.

People don’t like lobbyists.  This is hardly surprising since that group is usually depicted as corrupt influence peddlers, pulling the strings of the lawmakers beholden to their campaign contributions. Candidates for office echo the populist outrage against lobbyists, yet cannot seem to separate themselves from them.  Take President Donald Trump’s boast that he would “drain the swamp” of Washington, DC, lobbyists, only to find out that one of his closest campaign surrogates and, briefly, National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, had lobbied for several foreign governments without even registering to do so.  Or Corey Lewandowski, an early Trump campaign manager, who spun his connections into a highly lucrative lobbying business almost immediately after Trump took the oath of office.  Rather than drain the swamp, more noxious lobbyist-sewage appears to be flowing in.  While the facts about lobbying do not quite match the popular portrayal, there remains something unseemly about people whose profession is to influence policy on behalf of well-organized interest groups at the expense of the public.  Now with lobbyists for nearly every corner of American industry gearing up to influence tax reform, the problem of lobbyists-gone-wild appears worse than ever.  And the problem is hardly unique to the United States.

 

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This article is based on the October 2017 special issue of Interest Groups & Advocacy, ‘Draining the swamp, or cultivating the wetlands? Toward evidence-based lobbying regulation and reform’.

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