There are few professions as reviled as lobbying. Perhaps law, certainly Congress, and almost certainly some of the grimier and vice-filled sides of the economy. Detractors of lobbying decry it as a system of influence peddling and semi-legal bribery. Yet our political system would almost certainly be worse without lobbying, many politicians and interest groups claim. So, what is the truth? What do lobbyists do and how does it affect our political system? Well, those are the questions that Lobbyists at Work by Beth Leech answers.
Lobbyists at Work is certainly not a book for everyone. It, as you will learn more about in my summary of it, is composed entirely of interviews with people across the political spectrum and that perform different jobs in the lobbying world. Much of it is focused on getting past stereotypes and discovering how lobbying actually affects policy, so if you aren’t interested in policy and how the “sausage is made” in politics, then you probably won’t enjoy it and this book review might not be up your alley.
But, if you are like me and enjoy learning about policy and how it is put into action, then Lobbyists at Work is the book for you, for the reasons I will describe in this book review. Enjoy!
Summary of Lobbyists at Work by Beth Leech
As a quick introductory summary, here is what the back of Lobbyists at Work says it is about:
“Received wisdom has it that lobbyists run the American government on behalf of moneyed interest. But what makes lobbyists run, and how do the induce legislators and bureaucrats to do their bidding? These are questions for which even the harshest critics lack satisfying answers. Lobbyists at Work explores what lobbyists really do and why. It goes behind the scenes and brings back in-depth interviews with sixteen political advocates chosen to represent the breadth and diversity of the lobbying profession.”
While I normally prefer to not use direct quotations from the back-covers of books, I read that opening paragraph and new that I had to include it. It perfectly sums up what Lobbyists at Work is about and how Leech answers the questions at the heart of the book.
Rather than write a long and data-heavy book, Leech structured Lobbyists at Work as a series of interviews. For those interviews, she met with people that are involved in all the aspects of lobbying. There is an interview with one of the famed and reviled tobacco lobbyists of the 90s, interviews with government affairs workers and lobbyists at think tanks, “gun for hire” type lobbyists that work for whatever companies need their services, corporate lobbyists, and heads of interest groups that also do some advocacy and lobbying. That wide scope shows just how diverse and varied the lobbying profession is.
But Leech does not stop at just asking about their experiences while lobbying, which is what I expected. Instead, during her interviews, she does a deep dive into the personal background of each lobbyist. She discusses where they went to school, what degrees they got and why, what made them want to go into one of the most reviled professions in America, and, perhaps most importantly, how they actually influence legislation.
That wide-scope and focus on personal details makes Lobbyists at Work an incredibly interesting book. I, for one, was shocked at how many of the most influential lobbyists in the book either did not have a graduate degree or had a master’s degree instead of a law degree.
Additionally, each lobbyist interviewed goes on at length about how little money actually impacts the political process. According to them, they are not buying influence. While they might host fundraising events for certain politicians or donate to PACs, they do those things not to buy influence but instead because they ideologically agree with those politicians or personal viewpoints and want them in office.
Yes, having those people in office might help them advocate more effectively, but that is because they ideologically agree with the positions they are advocating for and the Congressmen they help with fundraising agree to.
Some people might not believe that argument. But, I think that if you actually take the time to read Lobbyists at Work, you will find it pretty compelling. Not a single one of the lobbyists interviewed seemed like the type of person who was simply there for the money. Instead, they became lobbyists because they care about policy and want to see it implemented. Even the tobacco lobbyist, who you might expect to be the most amoral and mercenary-thinking of the bunch, was in that position because he cared about individual liberty and saw tobacco as an individual liberty issue, as most Americans had for centuries.
So, overall, I think that Leech does an excellent job in Lobbyists at Work of showing how money actually influences our political process. That influence is not what you might expect; lobbyists, generally, at least, do not “buy” favors from politicians. But they might help people who agree with them get elected, as any American is free to do.
Additionally, Leech shows how lobbyists go about their business. Most people, when they imagine lobbying, imagine the smoke-filled rooms of Atlas Shrugged, where crooked politicians like Wesley Mouch meet with corrupt lobbyists and Big Business executives. They imagine lobbyists buying cigars and bourbon for corrupt politicians and bureaucrats as a way to buy favors
However, according to the interviews in Lobbyists at Work, that is not the case. While it once might have been how D.C. worked and how corrupt nations like Russia or Mexico still work, it is no longer the case in America.
Now, all lobbying activity is tightly regulated and is a mostly transparent process that contributes in a beneficial way to the political process, as it is about educating politicians and bureaucrats on what decisions would be most helpful, rather than buying favors from them.
Lobbyists at Work answers all the questions it sets out to. The interview-centric format of it might take some getting used to, but Leech is, through her interview questions, able to effectively describe how lobbying works and what role money plays in American politics.
Analysis of Lobbyists at Work by Beth Leech
The only aspect of Lobbyists at Work that I did not particularly like was its overall leftist slant. A couple of Republicans are interviewed, and one libertarian lobbyist is interviewed, but, overall, the majority of the lobbyists in it work for liberal causes. I think that decision unfairly represents the lobbying profession, as it makes it seem like D.C. is mainly run by liberals, which I know from my own experience to be untrue. There are many conservative lobbyists, namely in organizations like the NRA and Americans for Tax Reform.
Other than that liberal slant that permeates the book, it is quite good. Like I said in the introduction, it is heavily focused on how policy gets made and put into action, which might not appeal to everyone. But for those that are actually interested in learning about how the modern American political system works, it should prove to be quite interesting.
Finally, I enjoyed reading Lobbyists at Work because it provides arguments against the lies of those that either don’t understand lobbying or hate it despite knowing the truth. America needs advocacy for interesting groups, which is why Madison defended them in Federalist #10 of The Federalist Papers.
Congressmen are expected to know how to vote on every bill. Whether on the topic of military procurement, campaign finance, tax policy, or space policy (and of course everything else they might pass legislation about), we expect our Congressional representatives to vote for what is best for both their constituents and the nation.
Without lobbying and advocacy, that would be impossible. There is simply too much that they are expected to know. That ignorance (which is not their fault, but simply exists because the vast breadth of issues that they are expected to know about in detail) can create problems. It leads to short-sighted decisions, policies with negative externalities that they did not foresee (globalization is a great example), and decisions that are just bad. The Transcontinental Railroad, for example, would not have been built as quickly or early as it was had Congress been left to its own devices.
The only solution for that is interest groups and lobbyists. The existence of those allows a select few to thoroughly research specific topics and then communicate their findings on and opinions on those finding to Congress. Going back to the Transcontinental, it was built because lobbyists saw the benefits it would provide. Yes, there was corruption involved with that. But, overall, it was the right decision.
Nowadays, Congress is expected to know more and more. From Big Tech issues to how to reform the VA, we expect our legislators to act in our interests. What is the best way to do that? To support interest groups and lobbyists that advocate policies that fit your worldview. Lobbyists at Work shows that.
Americans have long had an intense focus on corruption. One of the reasons for the American Revolution, as you can read about in A Struggle for Power, was perceived corruption in Great Britain and parliament. Similarly, corruption during the XYZ affair was part of the reason America turned against France, as you can read about in A Wilderness so Immense and The Age of Federalism. And, nowadays, we are obsessed with Deep State corruption and how it has torn America apart.
In many cases, that focus on corruption is healthy. It is what lets us see how awful Joe Biden would be, for example, because of his history of corruption. But, in some other cases, it is counterproductive. I think that Lobbyists at Work shows why. Some lobbyists might be corrupt, and some politicians certainly are.
But, generally, they are not. Congressional representatives want to make the best decisions and lobbyists and government affairs professionals want to help them make decisions that fit with a certain worldview.
Often, the decisions that lobbyists help politicians make are far better than the decisions the politicians would make on their own. That is not corruption, it is advocacy.
If you want to learn the truth about lobbying and how it happens, then read Lobbyists at Work and The Third House. It will give you a much better perspective than you would otherwise have on how policy is crafted in America.
By: Gen Z Conservative