Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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LOBBY—literally, a covered passage or waiting-room—is in politics applied to the passages, or ante-rooms, surrounding a hall of legislation. Hence, by metonymy, the word has come to mean the men who frequent such places to influence legislatures or their members in the interest of certain measures. This application of the word lobby is almost wholly American. The word itself is ancient, and defined in Bullokar's "Eng. Expositor," 1616, as "a gallery." In England, the lobby of the house of commons is the passage immediately outside the hall, into which the members retire on either side of the house to vote on a division. The ayes go on out first, being counted as they pass into the lobby but no record of individual votes is kept, as is the practice in American legislatures. In a speech by Col. Titus on the exclusion bill in parliament Jan. 7, 1681, he said, "to trust expedients will such a king on the throne would be just as wise as if there were a lion in the lobby, and we should vote to let him in and chain him, instead of fastening the door to keep him out." This is paraphrased by Bramston in the oft-quoted lines:

"But Titus said, with his uncommon sense,
When the exclusion bill was in suspense:
'I hear a lion in the lobby roar:
Say, Mr. Speaker, shall we shut the door
And keep him there, or shall we let him in,
To try if we can turn him out again?'"


—British political history is sufficiently full of examples of lobby influence. In Queen Elizabeth's time a speaker of the house of commons, Sir John Trevor, was bribed by rich merchants to exert his influence in parliament in behalf of certain favors to the municipality of London. It was Sir Robert Walpole who originated the axiom, "Every man has his price." In the memorable railway excitement in England, thirty years ago, the railway lobby, by their combinations and cunning employment of the tide of public opinion, wielded a formidable power in parliament. Railway directors openly boasted of the number of votes they could command in the house of commons. Opposition lines were gotten up mainly to be bought off. Many instances are recorded of railway bills costing from £80,000 to £450,000 to get passed. It was these and other scandals which led to the adoption of the present stringent rule of the house of commons, which provides that every private bill or petition must be in charge of some known and recognized parliamentary agent. No person is allowed to act as a parliamentary agent without subscribing an obligation to observe and obey the rules and orders of the house of commons. He must give a bond in the sum of £500, and be registered, besides having a certificate of his respectability from a member of parliament or member of the bar. Any parliamentary agent who misconducts himself in prosecuting any claim or proceeding before parliament is suspended or prohibited by the speaker from practicing. No written or printed statement is permitted to be circulated in the house of commons without the name of a parliamentary agent attached, who will hold himself responsible for its accuracy.


—While there is no reason to doubt that what is known as the lobby has existed in one or another form in the legislative history of all free governments, it is certain that the organization and the power of this indefinite influence in political life has often been grossly exaggerated. In times of partisan excitement, when the advocates and opponents of any measure before the legislative body are full of zeal, wild stories are spread abroad through the press, connecting the names of public men with allegations of bribery and corruption. These stories are in the majority of cases utterly unfounded, and yet are as industriously circulated, to meet a real or fancied public appetite for scandal, as if there were no law of libel in existence. Probably there is no public man of any notoriety in our political history who has not at some time been charged with acting or voting under the influence of the lobby.


—What is known as lobbying by no means implies in all cases the use of money to affect legislation. This corruption is frequently wholly absent in cases where the lobby is most industrious, numerous, persistent and successful. A measure which it is desired to pass into law, for the benefit of certain interests represented, may be urged upon members of the legislative body in every form of influence except the pecuniary one. By casual interviews, by informal conversation, by formal presentation of facts and arguments, by printed appeals in pamphlet form, by newspaper communications and leading articles, by personal introductions from or through men of supposed influence, by dinners, receptions and other entertainments, by the arts of social life, and the charms of feminine attraction, the public man is beset to look favorably upon the measure which interested parties seek to have enacted. It continually happens that new measures or modifications of old ones are agitated in which vast pecuniary interests are involved. The power of the law, which when faithfully administered is supreme, may make or unmake the fortunes of innumerable corporations, business firms or individuals. Changes in the tariff duties, in the internal revenue taxes, in the banking system, in the mining statutes, in the land laws, in the extension of patents, in the increase of pensions, in the regulation of mail contracts, in the currency of the country, or proposed appropriations for steamship subsidies, for railway legislation, for war damages, and for experiments in multitudes of other fields of legislation equally or more important, come before congress. It is inevitable that each class of interests liable to be affected should seek its own advantage in the result. When this is done legitimately, by presentation and proof of facts, by testimony, by arguments, by printed or personal appeals to the reason and sense of justice of members, there can be no objection to it. What the legislator most needs is light upon every subject that can come before him; and whatever contributes to his knowledge of the numerous and complicated subjects with which he has to deal, and of which he must often be profoundly ignorant, is of value. The only danger to the legislator lies in hearing only ex parte evidence, or in giving credence to the too zealous representations of interested parties, while neglecting to inform himself of the facts upon the other side.


—It may be said that there are two well-defined classes of lobbyists. The first consists of that great, selfish, unorganized, greedy and rapacious class, known as "strikers," who are ever ready to trade upon the necessities of claimants, or the fears and hopes of the ignorant, to barter a pretended control of votes for money, and to charge a high price for influence which they do not possess. These men are the harpies and vultures of politics, whose frauds and impudent pretensions have often needlessly involved, not only the legislative body, but all who have sought to be heard before it, in public opprobrium. Men capable of bribing others are always ready themselves to be bribed. The genuine political striker will take anybody's money, whether it is earned or not. If the matter which he professes to be able to carry fails, as it generally does, he hides his own malfeasance under the cry of corruption, raised against other men who have defeated him. Pretending to deal in the votes of members to whom he is not even known, he lures on the ignorant or unwary seeker after "influence," till he has gobbled his profit, sometimes doing a large and lucrative business on fictitious capital, while his real stock in trade consists only in unfaltering impudence and a colossal power of lying.


—The other class of lobbyists are of quite another order. They pride themselves upon being men of honor, superior to the petty arts, chicaneries and falsehoods employed by other men. Their endeavors to influence legislation are open and above-board. They seek to organize a public opinion favorable to their measures, by the industrious collection and publication of facts, the distribution of documents, and the taking of testimony before committees. Their eminent respectability secures for them the acquaintance and often the familiar confidence of legislators. Reputable men in every department of life frequently endeavor to influence legislation, even in matters in which they have no pecuniary interest whatever. That such men should be called "lobbyists," or that their presentation of facts and arguments to members of the legislative body should be stigmatized as lobbying, in an invidious sense, would be palpably unjust. Equally unjust would it be to charge a whole legislature with corruption, because individuals have been bribed, or because (as is more frequent) a herd of importunate suitors dog their footsteps in their daily walks, to promote selfish and private interests.


—Much has been said and written concerning the Washington lobby, and the existence of a powerful organized body has been assumed as successfully endeavoring to control our national legislation. Numerous as are the men whose casual employment may justify the application to them of the term lobbyist, the power and influence of the congressional lobby has been greatly overrated. Congress is not a body of venal reprobates ready to be corrupted, but a body fairly representing the average intelligence and morality of the people. Bad legislation, of which we have more than enough, is the fruit of ignorance, not of corruption. It is a notable fact that no lobby scheme can be successful unless supported by a strong outside public sentiment. The press has vastly more power than the lobby, and when controlled in the interest of designing men, it is far more to be feared. Yet lobbying in the interest of private schemes of gain has always existed, and will always exist, while human nature remains what it is. There is no such thing as one organized lobby, but every session of congress witnesses many separate and unorganized attempts to influence legislation, sometimes by individuals, sometimes by associated action. Thus, we have the lobbyist with private claims in charge, whether his own or those of other men. We have pension lobbyists, tariff lobbyists, steamship subsidy lobbyists, railroad lobbyists, Indian ring lobbyists, patent lobbyists, river and harbor lobbyists, mining lobbyists, bank lobbyists, mail contract lobbyists, war-damages lobbyists, back-pay and bounty lobbyists, isthmus canal lobbyists, public building lobbyists, state claims 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. We have even had a French lobby, more than once, since M. Genet undertook to influence American opinion against the neutrality policy of Washington in 1793. There was what was called a Danish lobby in 1868, having as an objective point Mr. Seward's treaty for the purchase of Denmark's West Indies: but no money was used, save for writing and printing, as all concerned had the sense to perceive that money must fail to secure the enactment of any measure distasteful to congress or unpopular with the people. A little farther back, enormous stories were told of a Russian lobby; how that only $5,000,000 out of the $7,200,000 paid for the purchase of Alaska ever reached Russia. The facts were, that not a dollar was paid to a congressman, but $27,000 was invested in skillful attorneys, and $3,000 paid to one Washington newspaper, while the $2,170,000 was expended by the Russian minister, under instructions from his government, in munitions of war and machinery. In the case of President Johnson's trial by impeachment, in 1868, there was an extensive lobby operating back and forth between Washington and New York, and early knowledge of the unexpected acquittal was traded upon by men outside of congress, but the managers found no evidence whatever that any senator received money for his vote. During the Kansas excitement, in Buchanan's administration, there were two powerful lobbies which struck hands to put two distasteful measures through congress: the Lecompton constitution bill (an administration measure), and the Chaffee India-rubber extension patent, which kept a band of lobbyists in pay at Washington for two years. Both measures failed, though more than $100,000 was spent, and the testimony before the Covode committee of investigation failed to show corruption in a single member of congress. In the case of the Pacific mail steamship subsidy lobby, in 1872, more than $800,000 was expended, of which $300,000 went to an ex-congressman, and remained entirely unaccounted for, and the remainder was divided among lobbyists, journalists and obscure employés for supposed influence in the house or senate. The subsidy, which was passed, was for the annual sum of $500,000, but the grant was repealed two years later, and the ways and means committee reported, on investigation, that no money was found to have been paid to any member of congress. In the Crédit Mobilier scandal of 1868 there was no lobby, but a member of congress sold to a few fellow-members the stock of a railway construction company paying large dividends, on the plea that he "wanted to place the stock where it would do the most good," meaning to the Union Pacific railroad, a beneficiary of congress, in which he was himself largely interested. Resolutions of censure were adopted by the house in this case.


—The earliest instance of lobbying in the history of congress was the case of Robert Randall, in 1795, who combined with Whitney and others to procure from congress a grant of western lands to the amount of twenty million acres, for a merely nominal sum. Four representatives were approached and offered shares in the ring if they would favor the scheme. One member was offered money in hand. Randall claimed to have secured thirty or forty members of the house and a majority of the senate, but subsequently admitted the utter falsity of this pretension. Before the bill was offered he was exposed, through the members whom he had approached, arrested by order of the house, reprimanded by the speaker, and discharged after two weeks imprisonment.


—The case of John Anderson, in 1818, was an offer of $500 to the chairman of the committee on claims, "for extra trouble in making a report." The offer was in writing, and was immediately laid before the house by the member, with a motion for the arrest of the culprit, who was imprisoned and publicly reprimanded at the bar of the house. The cases of O. B. Matteson and W. A. Gilbert, congressmen from New York in 1857, were instances of corrupt lobbying on a large scale. The report of a committee of the house, by Henry Winter Davis, chairman, declared Gilbert to have cast his vote on the Iowa land bill for a corrupt consideration, consisting of seven square miles of land and some stock given to him. It also charged him with agreement to procure the passage of a resolution for purchase by congress of certain books, on condition that he should receive a certain sum out of the appropriation. Matteson was proven to have incited parties interested in the Des Moines land grant to use a large sum of money and interest in railroad stock corruptly, to procure the passage of the grant through the house. After long and acrimonious debate, during which J. W. Simonton, a journalist, was imprisoned for refusing to disclose the names of corruptible members, resolutions to expel both Matteson and Gilbert were reported and would have passed, but both members forestalled the vote by resigning their seats.


—There is no lack of legal penalties to deter lobbyists from making corrupt approaches to members of congress. By section 5450 of the revised statutes, every person who promises, gives, or procures to be offered, any money or value to any member with intent to influence his vote or decision on any matter pending in congress, shall be punished by fine, and imprisonment not exceeding three years. The same penalties are provided for any member of congress who asks or receives any valuable consideration to influence his vote or decision on any matter of legislation; to which is added forfeiture of his office as a member, and permanent disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States. The true remedy, however, and the only safeguard against the corruptions of the lobby, is to elect to congress none but tried and approved citizens, who have shown themselves worthy of the confidence of the public. (See LEGISLATION.)


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