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Erik Moberg ã:
A Theory of Democratic Politics
 
 

10 - THE MAIN ACTORS AND THE LOBBYISTS

It is commonplace in politics that various actors which do not belong to the legal decision-making system, and which in that sense are external, try to enhance their goals by influencing the main actors. Such actors are called lobbyists, and their activity is known as lobbying. They have or exercise influential power as defined in part 2 above.

The actors engaged in lobbying may be of many different kinds. They may be single individuals, business firms, unions, interest groups or many other kinds of organizations (other than, by definition, political parties).

The targets of lobbying are actors which have a potential for influencing the outputs of the legal decision-making system. This means, as I have already taken for granted in a few formulations above, that the lobbyist are likely to approach the main actors, which may be individuals or parties.

Furthermore the lobbyists may either try to influence incumbents, or to affect the appointment of new main actors. Both activities are important and common. In the latter case the lobbyists may for example, because of sympathy with their policies, add to their campaign efforts. There are also mixtures between these two activities. A lobbyist may thus, while supporting an actor's campaign, at the same time try influence the actor's future behavior.

The lobbyists, since they are not political parties, are likely to pursue interests rather ideologies or other general issues. Furthermore, within this general kind of ambition, the lobbyists are likely to limit their efforts to what can reasonably be achieved. If, for instance, it seems possible to influence decisive constellations of main actors, or to stimulate the creation of such constellations, and thus to change the status quo, the lobbyists are likely to do so. But if that is not within reach the lobbyists may confine themselves to stimulating the creation of blocking constellations, and thus to impede changes of the status quo.

It is interesting to note that, in constitutional settings where lobbyists are unlikely to be able to bring about changes of the status quo, and thus are restricted to blocking strategies, laws favoring various interests are likely to stimulate the creation of, and thus to precede, organizations defending them. In a setting where the lobbyists realistically may hope to change the status quo organizations are, on the contrary, likely to be created in order to bring such changes about, and thus to precede the changes.

It may also be noted that lobbying organizations sometimes may find it advantageous to form close relations, even in an organizational sense, with main actors. An obvious prerequisite for this is that we are dealing with party main actors rather than individual main actors, but this is not enough. It is also required, at least for organizational ties to develop, that the political parties themselves have enough of organizational structure, or, in other words, that they are cohesive and consolidated enough. It is difficult to imagine a close relationship between a well organized interest group and a party which is just a very loose conglomerate.

Sometimes lobbying organizations are called "pressure groups". This, I think, is a highly misleading term. It gives the impression that the organization uses some kind of almost physical force for driving the resisting main actor backwards, which is, I submit, a completely wrong idea about the nature of the relationship between the two parties. The lobbyists just do not have any power like that. When a main actor yields to a lobbyist's demand it does so rather because it finds its own interests enhanced thereby - if it were not for that it would not yield at all. We thus have to think about the two parties as reaching a mutually beneficial agreement. The understanding of lobbying is tantamount to knowledge about the relation between the two parties, which has to be analyzed in as detailed a way as is done, for instance, with sellers and buyers on a market in economic theory. Each party gives something away, gets something else in return, and comes out in a better state.

The benefits of the lobbyist always consist in favorable public decisions. The costs, on the contrary, may be of different kinds. One type of costs occur if the lobbyist, which in this case may be an organization, exercises its influence over its members to vote for the lobbied main actor. If so the costs do not only consist in the efforts made to get the members to change their votes, but also, for the members themselves, in the benefits foregone by not voting in the way they had originally intended to do. Another type of costs occur if the lobbyist provides money in cash in order to support the lobbied actor's election campaign. That, of course, is also a way of furnishing votes, albeit an indirect one. The lobbyist thus can fulfil his part of a bargain either by exercising influence over voters, or by supplying money, and it is, of course, of great interest to find out when and why the one or the other possibility is used. Finally it should be said that the lobbyist obviously also may supply money, or other valuables, for the lobbied actor's private use. Such manners, however, are obviously corrupt.

Within the perspective applied here the widely spread idea, which is given support by the term pressure group, that an organization is necessarily more effective the bigger, and the better organized, it is, seems dubious. Big and well administered organizations could quite conceivably lack influence, for example if the political counterpart does not see any benefits, such as votes, to result from yielding. On the other hand even a very weak organization may get influence simply by informing legislators about its position, and thereby about ways to get votes. In fact, it seems quite possible for groups of citizens, for example marginal voters, to be influential without being organised at all, and one might therefore even speak about implicit organizations or lobbyists.

So far I have just taken for granted that both political parties, and interest organizations, usually exist in a democratic system. Still it is important to ask why this is so. Which is the division of labor between political parties and interest organizations? This topic will be dealt with in part 10.1.