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The Role Played By Lobbying and Consulting Firms in Washington, D.C.

Some interest groups lobby Washington on their own; they have in-house staffers who trek up to Capitol Hill and federal agencies to interface directly with decision makers and their staff. Other interest groups outsource; they hire outside experts with specific issue expertise or with access to particular congressional committees, members, and staff, or to agencies. In fact, some companies have dozens of firms helping them on any number of issues.

For example, Google has 20 or so firms lobbying on its behalf on issues as varied as Internet regulation, immigration quotas, and patent reform.

These outside lobbyists are often former members of Congress, former congressional staff members, or former political appointees to various agencies. They know how laws and policy are made, and they know the dynamics behind who is making them.

A 2005 report by the advocacy group Public Citizen found that since 1998 more than 43 percent of departing members of Congress have become lobbyists. This figure counts only those who are eligible: All congressmen face a one-year ban on federal lobbying immediately after leaving office.

More than half of departing Republicans (52 percent) became lobbyists, while about a third (33 percent) of departing Democrats did the same. The trend was slightly stronger among departing senators (50 percent) than departing representatives (42 percent).

In sum, there is no shortage of well-connected lobbyists willing to take up the cause for the right price. This situation can lead to awkward moments, especially for former elected officials. But many former legislators have proven that voting one way in Congress has little bearing on the positions they will advocate for when they join the private sector.

Considering the hundreds of millions of dollars that top corporations and trade associations allocate for lobbying over the years, it comes as little surprise that the largest lobbying firms earn tens of millions of dollars annually from their lobbying contracts.

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