A Big Business and Growing: Online Extra for The Influence Business

January 2009

By Peggy Kerns

Lobbying may be government's oldest profession. Citizens' right to speak freely, to influence decisions and petition the government is rooted in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Flowing from this right is an industry whose numbers have increased dramatically, especially in the last 10 years. Lobbying is big business. A 2006 survey by the Center for Public Integrity put the number of lobbyists at state legislatures at near 40,000 and growing. This number does not include all volunteer lobbyists, who in some states are not required to register. These lobbyists work for more than 50,000 organizations and businesses, making it a $1 billion-a-year industry. The center estimates there are five lobbyists for every state legislator. 

In his book Third House, Alan Rosenthal, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University, attributes the increase in the number of lobbyists to the rise of special interest groups, particularly citizen groups.

"Any group that can be touched by state government, or by a competitor using the auspices of state government, cannot afford to be without representation," he says.

Broad legislative agendas, more complex issues, increased use of technology and better educated legislators all make for a sophisticated environment that calls for more thorough information—much of which can be provided by lobbyists.

Robert McCurley, director of the Alabama Law Institute, believes the increase in lobbyists in his state is the result of congressional unfunded mandates and leaving many issues to the states that had previously been handled by the federal government.

"This is especially true in the lobbyist influence on the emerging role of state regulations," he says, "and evident in health care, the lending industry and securities."