Front Page Titles (by Subject) Note (B) to Chapter 16: THE LOBBY - The American Commonwealth, vol. 1
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Note (B) to Chapter 16: THE LOBBY - Viscount James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, vol. 1 
The American Commonwealth, with an Introduction by Gary L. McDowell, 2 vols (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995).
Part of: The American Commonwealth, 2 vols.
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Note (B) to Chapter 16
“The lobby” is the name given in America to persons, not being members of a legislature, who undertake to influence its members, and thereby to secure the passing of bills. The term includes both those who, since they hang about the chamber, and make a regular profession of working upon members, are called “lobbyists,” and those persons who on any particular occasion may come up to advocate, by argument or solicitation, any particular measure in which they happen to be interested. The name, therefore, does not necessarily impute any improper motive or conduct, though it is commonly used in what Bentham calls a dyslogistic sense.
The causes which have produced lobbying are easily explained. Every legislative body has wide powers of affecting the interests and fortunes of private individuals, both for good and for evil. It entertains in every session some public bills, and of course many more private (i.e., local or personal) bills, which individuals are interested in supporting or resisting. Such, for instance, are public bills imposing customs duties or regulating the manufacture or sale of particular articles (e.g., intoxicants, explosives), and private bills establishing railroad or other companies, or granting public franchises, or (in state legislatures) altering the areas of local government, or varying the taxing or borrowing powers of municipalities. When such bills are before a legislature, the promoters and the opponents naturally seek to represent their respective views, and to enforce them upon the members with whom the decision rests. So far there is nothing wrong, for advocacy of this kind is needed in order to bring the facts fairly before the legislature.
Now both in America and in England it has been found necessary, owing to the multitude of bills and the difficulty of discussing them in a large body, to refer private bills to committees for investigation; and the legislature has in both countries formed the habit of accepting generally, though not invariably, the decisions of a committee upon the bills it has dealt with. America has, however, gone farther than England, for Congress refers all public bills as well as private bills to committees. And whereas in England private bills are dealt with by a semi-judicial procedure, the promoters and opponents appearing by professional agents and barristers, in America no such procedure has been created, either in Congress or in the state legislatures, and private bills are handled much like public ones. Moreover, the range of private bills is wider in America than in England, in respect that they are used to obtain the satisfaction of claims by private persons against the government, (although there exists a federal Court of Claims, and in some states the state permits itself to be sued) whereas in England such claims would either be brought before a law court in the form of a Petition of Right, or, though this rarely happens, be urged upon the executive by a motion made in Parliament.
We see, therefore, that in the United States:
It results from the foregoing state of facts that the efforts of the promoters and opponents of a bill will be concentrated upon the committee to which the bill has been referred; and that when the interests affected are large it will be worth while to employ every possible engine of influence. Such influence can be better applied by those who have skill and a tact matured by experience; for it is no easy matter to know how to handle a committee collectively and its members individually. Accordingly, a class of persons springs up whose profession it is to influence committees for or against bills. There is nothing necessarily illegimate in doing so. As Mr. Spofford remarks:
Just as a plaintiff in a lawsuit may properly employ an attorney and barrister, so a promoter may properly employ a lobbyist. But there is plainly a risk of abuse. In legal proceedings, the judge and jury are bound to take nothing into account except the law and the facts proved in evidence. It would be an obvious breach of duty should a judge decide in favour of a plaintiff because he had dined with or been importuned by him (as in the parable), or received £50 from him. The judge is surrounded by the safeguards, not only of habit but of opinion, which would condemn his conduct and cut short his career were he to yield to any private motive. The attorney and barrister are each of them also members of a recognized profession, and would forfeit its privileges were they to be detected in the attempt to employ underhand influence. No such safeguards surround either the member of a committee or the lobbyist. The former usually comes out of obscurity, and returns to it; the latter does not belong to any disciplined profession. Moreover, the questions which the committee has to decide are not questions of law, nor always questions of fact, but largely questions of policy, on which reasonable men need not agree, and as to which it is often impossible to say that there is a palpably right view or wrong view, because the determining considerations will be estimated differently by different minds.
These dangers in the system of private bill legislation made themselves so manifest in England, especially during the great era of railway construction between 1835 and 1850, as to have led to the adoption of the quasi-judicial procedure described in the Note on Private Bills, and to the erection of parliamentary agents into a regularly constituted profession, bound by professional rules. Public opinion has fortunately established the doctrine that each member of a private bill committee is to be considered as a quasi-judicial person, whose vote neither a brother member nor any outsider may attempt to influence, but who is bound to decide, as far as he can, in a judicial spirit on the footing of the evidence tendered. Of course practice is not up to the level of theory in Parliament any more than elsewhere; still there is little solicitation to members of committees, and an almost complete absence of even the suspicion of corruption.
“In the United States,” says an experienced American publicist, whose opinion I have inquired, “though lobbying is perfectly legitimate in theory, yet the secrecy and want of personal responsibility, the confusion and want of system in the committees, make it rapidly degenerate into a process of intrigue, and fall into the hands of the worst men. It is so disagreeable and humiliating that all men shrink from it, unless those who are stimulated by direct personal interest; and these soon throw away all scruples. The most dangerous men are ex-members, who know how things are to be managed.”
That this unfavourable view is the prevailing one, appears not merely from what one hears in society or reads in the newspapers, though in America one must discount a great deal of what rumour asserts regarding illicit influence, but from the constitutions and statutes of some states, which endeavour to repress it.
What has been said above applies equally to Congress and to the state legislatures, and to some extent also to the municipal councils of the great cities. All legislative bodies which control important pecuniary interests are as sure to have a lobby as an army to have its camp followers. Where the body is, there will the vultures be gathered together. Great and wealthy states, like New York and Pennsylvania, support the largest and most active lobbies. It must, however, be remembered that although no man of good position would like to be called a lobbyist, still such men are often obliged to do the work of lobbying—i.e., they must dance attendance on a committee, and endeavour to influence its members for the sake of getting their measure through. They may have to do this in the interests of the good government of a city, or the reform of a charity, no less than for some private end.
The permanent professional staff of lobbyists at Washington is of course from time to time recruited by persons interested in some particular enterprise, who combine with one, two, or more professionals in trying to push it through. Thus there are at Washington, says Mr. Spofford, “pension lobbyists, tariff lobbyists, steamship subsidy lobbyists, railway lobbyists, Indian ring lobbyists, patent lobbyists, river and harbour lobbyists, mining lobbyists, bank lobbyists, mail-contract lobbyists, war damages lobbyists, back-pay and bounty lobbyists, Isthmus canal lobbyists, public building lobbyists, state claim lobbyists, cotton-tax lobbyists, and French spoliations lobbyists. Of the office-seeking lobbyists at Washington it may be said that their name is legion. There are even artist lobbyists, bent upon wheedling Congress into buying bad paintings and worse sculptures; and too frequently with success. At times in our history there has been a British lobby, with the most genteel accompaniments, devoted to watching legislation affecting the great importing and shipping interests.”
Women were at one time among the most active and successful lobbyists at Washington. Very few are now seen.