A DECLINE IN reported lobbying is not always synonymous with a decline in lobbying. Many would argue, as some have in recent weeks, that like a crooked weather vane, disclosure reports are a poor gauge of what they were designed to reveal. The most convincing reason for this is that people are avoiding the whole disclosure apparatus altogether by refraining from registration, and thereby joining the ranks of the underground lobbyists, or “unlobbyists.” This phenomenon distorts the size of the advocacy pool (making it appear smaller than it actually is) and, by extension, the extent of its activity. It’s conceivable that if this trend continues, the “unlobbyist” will no longer prove the exception to the rule.
But this isn’t the only reason why an apparent slump in lobbying spending may be illusory. Here are six more offered by Thomas Edsall of The New York Times:
1) The Obama campaign – Tech innovations from the Obama campaign have improved the efficacy of grassroots advocacy and are rendering the middle man obsolete:
[T]he success of the Obama campaign in advancing computer-driven techniques to reach key segments of the electorate has produced a blossoming industry of digital and specialized communications firms using data analysis, microtechnology and computerized list-building to create public support for or opposition to legislative and policy initiatives – virtually all of which goes effectively undisclosed.
2) The Obama Administration – The administration’s anti-lobbying executive orders have ironically discouraged registration:
Taken together, these regulations have encouraged those interested in public service to find jobs that do not require them to register as lobbyists. Or, put another way, those who are eager for government work are not going to formally register themselves as lobbyists and thus make themselves ineligible.
3) Public Relations – PR is replacing GR as another form of advocacy:
To address diminishing revenues, lobbying firms have created their own public relations operations, subsidiaries with the same goals as the lobbying arm, that charge similarly high fees, but which do not have to be publicly reported to either the House or the Senate.
4) Digital advertising – It’s becoming more political. Edsall quotes Jen Nedeau of Bully Pulpit Interactive:
By using data-driven ads to craft a narrative, we believe that social media does not only have the ability to sell soap, but as we’ve already proven, it can help to get out the vote.
5) SOPA – It’s crushing defeat changed the rules of the game:
The scope of the ongoing upheaval in lobbying was brought home with a vengeance in 2011 and 2012 by the failure of traditional lobbying strategies to win approval of the Stop Online Piracy Act. In early 2011, by all normal standards, the odds were with passage of SOPA….The emergence of a powerful public force outside traditional avenues of influence put fear of elective defeat into the hearts of members of Congress and forced the lobbying community to beef up its own non-traditional tactics….Now, in the lexicon of Washington insiders, the acronym SOPA has become a verb, as in the warning to overconfident legislators: “Don’t get SOPAed.”
6) Social media – A cliche but nonetheless true:
[S]ocial media means almost anyone “can shine a light on” Congressional negotiations, so that company or association pushing an issue can no longer depend on the effectiveness of an old-guard lobbyist with good connections on Capitol Hill.