The political lobbying system of America is often believed to be one of the primary difficulties to the proper functioning of America’s representational system of government. Bribery is just one of the supposed ways in which the lobbying system is perceived to perpetrate wrongdoing. The purpose of lobbyists is simplistically to meet with legislators and explain the nature and goals of the organizations they represent in the hopes of convincing those legislators to become somewhat friendly to the lobbyist’s cause.
But lobbying often involves donations and gifts to those legislators’ political groups in the hopes of favorably influencing those legislators. Although this sounds like bribery, lobbying and bribery are two different acts. However, it is from this confusion that many of the negative views of lobbying arise.
The primary difference between bribery and lobbying, or to be exact, the kind of contributions most representative of lobbying, is that in bribery there is a specific request being made. When a legislator asks for a specific monetary amount in exchange for the legislator’s vote, bribery is taking place. But when the legislator’s political party is instead given a donation from a lobbyist, it need not influence the legislator in any particular fashion. No agreement or deal was made for the donation, and as such, it is not considered bribery.
Essentially, the best way to understand the difference between lobbying and bribery is that bribery involves quid pro quo, “this for that,” a clear and definitive exchange of one good or service for another. Lobbying is a donation without strings attached meant to influence, but not of necessity leading toward a specific action on the part of the individual or group receiving the donation.
Many attempts have been made over the course of American politics to lead to greater transparency and regulation for lobbying in order to help better define the line between lobbying and bribery and to find those instances when the line is crossed. These include the Executive Branch Reform Act, which required officials of the Executive Branch to report any “significant contact” from any “private party” into a publicly accessible database, such that any meetings with a lobbyist would need to be reported.
Additionally, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 was an attempt to define the ethical standards required of lobbyists and to reform the lobbying system towards a more transparent state. But even with these regulations in place, bribery could still be passing by, covered up as lobbying because the two are so closely related.
It is unlikely that America’s lobbying system will ever be truly overturned, despite claims that it damages American representational procedure and ensures that a small group of powerful companies is able to control important political issues. But attempting to ensure that lobbying is transparent, and that it does not act as a shade under which to hide acts of bribery, is a worthwhile goal.
Every company and person has a right to donate money to those parties most likely to serve their goals, and they then have the right to withhold that money should those parties not actually serve their goals. That is the ideal nature of lobbying, and as long as it remains in that vein, then lobbying need not be eliminated. But no one has a right to perpetrate bribery, especially not under the guise of lobbying.