Thinking Out Loud: In Praise of Lobbyists (Really)

The First Amendment has four universally recognized freedoms:  speech, religion, the press, and assembly, which reflect our natural desire to worship, express ourselves and join together in support of something dear to us.

But the First Amendment also contains a not-so-recognized fifth freedom: to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”   Where did that come from?

If came from the Founders’ belief that governments should play a role in redressing grievances that its citizens perceive threaten their interests — especially when the government is the cause of those grievances.  That was certainly the case in the 1770s as the British Parliament imposed on its American colonists various revenue (taxation) acts — Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Townshend Acts — that the colonists believed violated their rights (and interests) because they weren’t represented in that Parliament, and therefore had no say in the creation of these acts.

And how did the colonies respond to these perceived violations of their rights?  They wrote petition after petition to King George III and Parliament arguing their case and asking that these grievances be redressed.  It was only because King George III and Parliament ignored these written petitions that they took up arms.

That is why the First Amendment includes the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Of course, in the 1770s America comprised 3 million people in 13 states confined to the Eastern Seaboard, so like-minded citizens could easily band together into special-interest groups and directly petition the government.  Today, however, we are a continental nation of 300 million people, meaning an exponential increase in the number of special-interest groups, and, because of geography, the near impossibility of directly petitioning the government.

Therefore it is necessary to hire representatives to petition the government for us.   They are called lobbyists, and despite the shady reputation, often justified, the lobbying profession has acquired, lobbying is a critical function in a free society — today more than ever because, as government continues to increasingly intrude into our lives, government — as was the case in the 1770s — increasingly becomes the cause of our grievances.   The more government taxes, regulates or controls us, the more we attempt to influence how government taxes, regulates, or controls us.  It’s called self-interest, which is the primary determinant of human behavior.

In that sense, the more lobbyists the better because they allow more different groups, small as well as large, modest as well as wealthy, far as well as near, to have their views known to the government.

In sum, lobbying is a constitutionally sanctioned profession with a long history.  Today, by necessity, its practitioners — lobbyists — “petition” government at all levels on behalf of the myriad interests, or “grievances,” of a very large and diverse people.