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Sunday, February 24, 2008

History of Lobbying in the United States

The history of lobbying in the United States actually has different versions. Lobbying was said to originate when members of Parliament and colleagues gathered themselves in the hallways or lobbies of House of Parliament before and after parliamentary debates. Another popular version is that the term “lobbying” began during the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant between 1869 and 1877, when Grant was not permitted by his wife to smoke inside the White House. He instead went to the nearby Willard Hotel and enjoyed his cigars at the hotel’s lobby. After being frequently seen there, politicians and those who wanted political favors began to approach him and initiate discussions at these times when he was in high spirits. Due to this, Grant started using the term to describe the political wheelers and dealers who resorted to capitalize on times when Grant was in the lobby of the hotel.
Contrary to these stories, lobbying dates back to the earliest records of Congress. In the 1700s, the Virginia veterans of the Continental army employed William Hull to lobby for additional payment for their services during the war. In 1795, a Philadelphia newspaper illustrated how lobbyists waited outside the Congress Hall to give a hint or advice to a member of Congress. In 1798, Senator Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire propositioned that a huge group of Philadelphia citizens be admitted to the Senate floor so that citizens can present a petition to support the administration’s policies toward France. Senator Humphrey Marshall of Kentucky carried out an objection and a resolution was passed regarding the prohibition of individuals or delegations from presenting petitions in such a way at some point.
During this period, individuals who wished to sway the decision-making of politicians used entertainment to persuade them. A Senator from Pennsylvania expressed in his diary that merchants from New York use “treats, dinners, and attention” to have a tariff bill passage delayed.
In the early 1850s, Samuel Colt, the owner of a prominent gun manufacturing company, wanted the passage of a bill to lengthen his patent for seven years. It was reported that in order to achieve an affirmative result, Colt had his agents set generous entertainments for indecisive senators. It was also noted that his agents gave pistols to certain members of the legislature.
During the 1870s, lobbyists such as William E. Chandler received large retainers from numerous railroad companies that sought government assistance. Tom Scott, the president of the largest corporation at that time, the Pennsylvania Road, was believed to have hired two hundred lobbyists for the congressional session. The most illustrious lobbyist was Sam Ward, generally known as the “King of the Lobby;” he was initially employed by the Treasury Secretary to restore order and stability to the country’s post-Civil War finances. Ward was known to provide the best food, wines, and entertainment. By the 1900s, lobbying expanded its extent beyond commercial and financial interests and lobbying strategies also started to transform. In 1946, the Lobbying Act of 1946 regulated that lobbyists must register themselves; in 1995, the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 was passed to tighten provisions of the previous law.
Open Secrets profile of lobbying in the United States.
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