In theory, America's democratic process is designed to be open and accessible to its citizens.
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No one expects to be able to drive up to the White House for a pop-in visit with the president. But in principle, ordinary citizens and business owners should have access to lawmakers and to the legislative process.
Not surprisingly, that isn't how the American political process really works. Average citizens find it difficult to gain an audience with lawmakers. Part of the problem is practical – there are hundreds (if not thousands) of special interests vying for the attention of our elected officials and it simply isn't possible to give everyone the same level of attention.
Although it's possible to capture lawmakers' attention on your own, many trade associations and corporations hire professional lobbyists to do the heavy lifting for them. Lobbyists are government insiders who specialize in presenting their clients' concerns to the right people and in guiding the legislative process. Even though good lobbyists aren't cheap, there are plenty of reasons why hiring a lobbyist may be the best way to gain the attention of government agencies and elected officials.
- Experience. Could you send a company executive to Washington to try and get the attention of lawmakers and government agencies? Sure. In fact, it might be a lot cheaper than hiring a lobbyist to do it for you. But let's face it, unless your exec has lobbying experience, he won't have any idea what he's doing and the odds of success will be slim. In some cases, inexperience can even generate the kind of attention that is counterproductive to your cause.
- Strategy. Good lobbyists are expert strategists. Their experience has given them firsthand knowledge about how the game is played and the players themselves. It's also given them insight about how to design strategies that will get results for their clients. As in business, many government decisions often boil down to funding, and professional lobbyists are skilled at devising funding strategies that make it easy for legislators to say "yes".
- Personal contacts. Ever wonder why the ranks of professional lobbying firms are swollen with former lawmakers and legislative aides? Personal contacts. Relationships are important in government and the most successful lobbyists are those who share a history with the people who are currently in power. Unless you have those kinds of personal relationships, you'll need a lobbyist to enter the inner circle of trust with some government players.
- Speed. When everything is said and done, paid lobbyists get the job done faster than people who do their own lobbying. There are no guarantees that the lobbyist will be able to deliver your desired outcomes. But if it can be done, a good lobbyist will usually accomplish it much sooner than you could have – and that's an important consideration if you're dealing with a time-sensitive issue.