With all that’s been in the news recently about Hunter Biden, lobbying, and potential foreign influence in our policy decisions during the Obama Administration, you might be wondering what lobbying is and how it works. Well, I recently published a review of Lobbyists at Work, which describes how lobbying works in D.C. But it doesn’t tell the other side of the story, which is how lobbying works in the states. The Third House, however, does.
In The Third House, the author, Alan Rosenthal, describes how state-level lobbying is conducted. From the role of money in lobbying to what the credentials of most lobbyists are to the power and influence of lobbyists, Rosenthal touches on most every issue related to state-level lobbying in a concise and highly informative way. I’ll delve further into it in my review, but if you don’t have time to read the full review, just know that it is a great book that I would highly recommend and found extremely informative.
Summary of The Third House by Alan Rosenthal
As I mentioned in the introduction, The Third House is a book about state-level lobbying. While Rosenthal does mention D.C.-level lobbying operations from time to time, those mentions of D.C. are meant mainly to show general concepts or the similarities between lobbying in the states and lobbying in D.C.
While Rosenthal does not cover what lobbying is like in every state, the mix of states he chose helps him explain what lobbying is like in the various types of states in America. The Third House is focused on lobbying and government affairs operations in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey and Texas. That selection of states provides a good mix of what Rosenthal terms of what Rosenthal terms “moralistic,” “traditionalistic,” and “individualistic” states and a good mix of Democrat-run and Republican-run states. So, from a high-level, The Third House relates to any type of state government culture, which helps make it applicable to every state in the Union.
Additionally, Rosenthal doesn’t just cover every type of state in The Third House, he also covers every type of lobbyist.
He discusses the activities and operations of contract lobbyists, also called “hired guns,” who work on a wide variety of contracts for multiple different companies and do what they do for money rather than principle. Rosenthal also discusses “public interest” lobbyists, who generally work for a cause, such as lowering taxes or preventing new gun control laws from being put into effect; they generally work for a think-tank or other organization and are lobbyists because of their dedication to a cause. Finally are the association lobbyists, who work for an organization such as the American Liquor Makers Council and try to advance the interests of that association of businesses or professionals.
From that high-level description of what types of lobbyists he is covering, Rosenthal quickly delves into the details of who gets into lobbying. He discusses the general qualities of lobbyists and how they got into lobbying, what credentials most of them have, and what styles of lobbying they use to advance the interests of their employers.
Next, Rosenthal describes what lobbying is like. Over the course of a couple chapters, he gives a comprehensive picture of how lobbyists deal with the culture of various state governments, how they make contacts and influence legislation, the role money plays, how they keep track of new legislation and try to insert the interests of their employers into that legislation, and what it is like what a lobbyist and politician or lobbyist and opposing lobbyist battle over votes.
Relatedly, Rosenthal describes in The Third House how lobbyists generate support for the causes they champion, both in the government and in the public. From donating to re-election PACs to using the media to build grassroots movements in support of a certain cause, Rosenthal gives an in-depth depiction of how lobbyists generate political and public support for their chosen causes and policy areas.
Finally, Rosenthal answers the question most people who know about lobbying wonder about- just how effective is it?
Of course, that answer is greatly dependent on a wide variety of factors. How good at his/her job is the lobbyist? How popular is the cause that is being championed? Could grassroots support be generated for it? How deep are the pockets of the group said lobbyist is working for? Is the issue a big one or small one- could it slide in relatively unnoticed in an amendment to a bill, or will it be a big fight to get anything done. But, generally, lobbyists can be quite effective. If the issue isn’t too radical and the lobbyist is good at his job, then lobbying can get the job done.
Overall, The Third House covers a wide variety of subjects. From who goes into lobbying to how they do their job, the book will give you a comprehensive depiction of how lobbying works, how effective it is, and what life is like for an average lobbyist. If lobbying is a topic you are interested in, The Third House will help you understand everything about it.
Analysis of The Third House by Alan Rosenthal
Generally, I thought The Third House was an excellent book.
For one, Rosenthal does and excellent job of organizing it. Each chapter is 20-30 pages, is about a specific and sensibly chosen group of topics related to an aspect of state-level lobbying, is a logical progression from the previous chapter, and contains its own set of citations at the end so the reader can learn more or verify the information in the chapter.
Also, I appreciated Rosenthal’s stance on lobbying, which he provides in the introduction. That stance is that lobbying is not a bad thing for America, but is actually a good thing. Not only is it protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, as Madison describes in The Federalist #10, but lobbyists provide lawmakers with valuable information that helps them write better bills and make a more positive impact on American life.
As I share that opinion with Rosenthal, it made me like the book much more. Yes, there are always bad apples and some lobbyists, like Hunter Biden, are bad people. But most are not. Most, unlike Christopher Buckley’s depictions of them in Thank You for Smoking, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, Wry Martinis, and But Enough about You, actually care about the cause they lobby for and want to use their influence to make America a better place. That is a fact worth remembering and I very much appreciated Rosenthal bringing it up in The Third House.
Finally, I enjoyed reading The Third House because of how informative it is. While it is a short book (~220 pages), Rosenthal uses that space well and gives a comprehensive depiction of lobbying. Most people don’t know much about lobbying other than what negative and biased news articles say, so the existence of a book like The Third House, which is such a comprehensive and informative resource, is quite helpful.
The Third House is an informative book, and one that should appeal to anyone interested in learning more about lobbying. While it does only focus on state-level lobbying, I don’t think that is too much of a negative. Whether in Sacramento or D.C., the general idea is the same- lobbyists attempt to use their connections, influence, and information to sway legislation. Rosenthal shows just how they do that.
By: Gen Z Conservative
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