Reforms Regulating Grassroots and AstroTurf Lobbying

By Caitlin Galassini

Thursday, April 15, 2010

As a multi-billion dollar global industry, “Lobbying” is the process of those with specialized knowledge advising others in order to persuade and influence legislators and government officials to pass legislation on certain problems to aid the issue. Before the efforts put forth by Congressmen in the late 1990’s, lobbying reforms had not been made since the mid-1940’s in the House of Representatives which indicates these reforms to be beyond overdue. Though frequent reforms are quite crucial, reforming the way Congress handles itself with Grassroots lobbying and the newly popular AstroTurf lobbying could be extremely beneficial to the world of politics, certainly to the way Congress functions in the United States.
With many efforts for lobby reform by the House of Representatives being recurrently denied, the Senate sent a recommendation counseling the Speaker of the House to do so. Lobby reform is important in order to have efficient legislation process in Congress. More specifically, Grassroots lobbying must be reformed to be current with new tactics and technology that could be detrimental to all legislation through influence. AstroTurf lobbying has stemmed out of Grassroots lobbying and also needs up to date reformation to control and regulate the possible manipulation of naïve, unaware citizens that can be targeted. Lobbying is an effective and vital part of the United States legislative government and it is imperative that these issues of reform are not overlooked.
There have been various attempts at lobby reform throughout the more recent two decades and only few have passed through legislation, yet these reforms were so essential that every ounce of energy pushing for reform was respected. Once the Senate sent a recommendation to the House of Representatives on July 26th, 1995 urging the House of Representatives to make reforms, it was decided to legitimately push for alterations. The 104th Congress was the first to be successful with reform since the middle of the 1940’s when they passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, in effect January 1st, 1996. This act forced federal lobbyists who were being rewarded for their duties of lobbying to register frequently throughout the year with the Secretary of the Senate or the Clerk of the House of Representatives. The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 helped to regulate lobbying, as it was developing into practices much more complex than it ever was before, an industry. Though it was a major step toward managing lobbying in the United States, there were still amendments that followed to strengthen the act including the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 which holds violators of the original act monetarily responsible.
On October 30th, 1995, a Texas Democratic Representative, Lloyd Doggett, announced that the Senate has sent the advisement regarding Lobby Reform. The Speaker of the House at the time, Newt Gingrich, has formally opposed these reforms about lobbying and gift ban because he believed that it was “astonishingly narrow and self destructive.” As Doggett goes on to talk about the reform being past due, he is convincing in explaining the importance of the update. Morning Hour with Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett - October 30, 1995. Doggett believed any reformation to be of assistance for obvious reasons and tries to exploit Gingrich by referring to a quote about Congress “not having the energy.” He is very persuasive and is, in kind, lobbying for lobby reform.
From the universal umbrella of lobby reformation in both the Senate and the House in Congress, Grassroots lobbying was greatly impacted since it is the most popular type of legislative and political activism. And though lobbying reforms had many problems on Capitol Hill and with the public, they were successful in creating a sense of organization for the system by making an impression on Grassroots lobbying.
Sending volunteer district members to actively influence legislation and politics in Washington D.C. and throughout the political sphere using letters and contacts to persuade politician’s decision making is called, “Grassroots Lobbying.” This tactic has become increasingly crucial for political campaigning with both for elections and legislative advocacy. It has made a name for itself because it is such an effective method of persuasion in the legislative arena. These human activists, or “lobbyists,” have expertise information regarding certain issues that has become a political concern and use Grassroots lobbying to influence the decision and outcomes of elections and legislation. The Senate proposed an “ethics reform” bill in 2004 which strongly encouraged the tactic of Grassroots lobbying. This sent a powerful message to the general public about communicating the knowledge obtained regarding a specific issue and applying that to actively have an impact on legislation. The Legislative Branch encouraged citizens to become more involved by entering the Grassroots reform provision into the bill.
At the American University, Glen Caroline speaks with students about the purpose of Grassroots lobbying through his experience with the National Rifle Association. Using the two-sided coin analogy of educating and empowering, he describes how lobbying advances specific agendas and processes through a definition of Grassroots Organization from the National Rifle Association. Grassroots Organization with Glen Caroline of National Rifle Association - December 31, 2009. The advice Caroline gives and the logic he explains to the students is valuable and furthers their understanding, and hopefully appreciation, for Grassroots Organizations no matter the personal stance on the aim of the organization. He explains the dangers of having the information and not being able to act on it through the legislative process and how this inability could be the reason for poor Legislative and Political Activism. Whether lobbyists are arguing to influence legislature or elections, Grassroots lobbying is an efficient way to have educated and empowered voices heard.
Lobby reform by the Congress definitely affects Grassroots lobbying and regulates the process due to stipulations of the lobbyists, but with new forms arising, another reform limiting lobbying firms could be necessary. AstroTurf lobbying is criticized because they are formally executed by organization specialists and not spontaneous, concerned citizens. AstroTurf lobbying was given the name AstroTurf because it artificially resembles grass, comprehending it is modeled from the core of Grassroots lobbying.
Deriving from Grassroots lobbying, AstroTurf lobbying is a less effective manner of activism by calling local citizens to receive their support in passing and influencing legislation and politics around the country, yet centering in Washington D.C. This form of lobbying is often controversial because it has become a booming industry. Large lobbying firms are typically hired and use procedures that resemble the telemarketing process in order to lobby the citizens. Often times, these firms are accused of manipulating the locals into agreeing with the viewpoint of the firm’s clients, which makes AstroTurf lobbying quite questionable.
During the interview about his, Ken Silverstein, book, “Mother Jones,” on October 28th, 1997, Ken addresses AstroTurf Lobbying. He recognizes this form of lobbying to be “sheer manipulation” and helps callers understand his concerns. "AstroTurf Lobbying" with Ken Silverstein on his new book, "Mother Jones." - October 28, 1997. Silverstein exposing AstroTurf lobbying is thought provoking and interesting. Viewers should be curious and skeptical of these procedures because of the possible issue of manipulation which he refers to. Though Silverstein focuses on the dubious actions of AstroTurf lobbying, he also mentions his cynical views on Grassroots lobbying. He explains the public has these images of Grassroots lobbying that is thought to be a proactive and spontaneous uniting of citizens in order to positively defend their interests. But he believes there are ulterior motives, considering the lobbying process has become an eight hundred million dollar “industry.” Silverstein’s opinions on Grassroots and AstroTurf lobbying are extremely fascinating considering they intersect with the Senate’s legislation promoting Grassroots lobbying.
AstroTurf lobbying might be considered inefficient and incredulous way of lobbying, but it reaches a wider range of citizens. No matter the opinion on AstroTurf lobbying, any form of activism can be influential and proactive.
Though Grassroots and AstroTurf lobbying are not the same, they both require constant reformation of lobbying legislation for control and regulation. Because the Legislative Branch is so impressionable upon the overall government, it can be very complicated. Grassroots and AstroTurf lobbying are necessary to push legislation in the right direction and the general lobbying reforms allow for the rest to function properly and to their full potential. The Legislative Branch somewhat relies on lobbying to keep legislature flowing through the system due to the ever effective Grassroots lobbying and AstroTurf lobbying because it reaches out to a vast amount of people. Congress was designed a certain way for a reason, but lobbying reformations will help allow it to continue to function in our ever changing political realm.

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