Lobbying and advocacy play an integral role in the American political system. It is one of the keyways citizens and entities, both domestic and foreign, can influence government policy by engaging with policymakers and elected officials. While often maligned, these activities ensure that diverse opinions are heard, fostering a robust and thorough democratic process.
American society is complex, with diverse opinions on every topic. These diverse opinions are not limited to domestic issues, and oftentimes, policies related to foreign countries are as divisive as domestic policies. One of the hallmarks of American democracy is enabling various interests to coexist and compete, which makes advocacy and lobbying all the more important.
Foreign nations must lobby the United States Government for several reasons, including strategic, economic, and diplomatic purposes. Like U.S.-based entities, foreign governments or entities often seek to influence policies that directly impact their national or organizational interests or goals. Additionally, many foreign governments and entities have economic interests tied to the United States. Lobbying can help them secure favorable trade conditions, investment opportunities, access to technology and resources, or security cooperation.
The United States has a population of roughly 331 million people, yet only 535 elected officials are charged with creating policy and regulatory frameworks at the Federal level. The same 535 officials are also charged with enacting policies that extend beyond the borders of the United States and have global impacts. With so many competing voices on a myriad of issues, it is imperative for groups or foreign countries to collectively present their views to the entirety of the U.S. political spectrum to influence laws and policies. Unlike many countries in the world, the U.S. President and his Cabinet and senior advisors are limited in their ability to make and implement policies unilaterally.
Due to the system of checks and balances in the United States, the Executive Branch of the government must work with the other branches of government and its own agencies when developing and implementing policies that impact domestic and foreign audiences. Simply because an Administration wants a specific outcome does not guarantee that outcome will be achieved. That is why numerous foreign entities have invested time and resources into building relationships with the U.S. Congress, Executive Agencies, think tanks, media, and industry partners. They understand that the diversity of the U.S. political system demands that they exercise influence at every level of government to enable the best chance of achieving their desired outcomes.
Oftentimes, the lobbying of foreign governments and entities is aimed at preventing harmful policies as it is about trying to implement beneficial policies. In 2022, according to open-source records, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates all spent more than USD $20,000,000 in lobbying expenditures in the United States. Even China, the United States’ primary competitor, spent tens of millions of dollars trying to favorably influence United States policies.
Critics often argue that lobbying and advocacy provide an ability to improperly policy through backroom deals. While improper lobbying activities have occurred and can undermine confidence in this democratic process, lobbying and advocacy efforts in the United States are highly regulated and transparent. Lobbying expenditures are a part of the public record, helping limit undue influence.
In a nation as diverse and large as the United States, lobbyists function as a vital source of information for elected officials and policymakers on domestic and foreign issues. Often, lobbyists are better versed on aspects of certain subjects as they are the subject matter experts. In fact, elected officials rely on lobbyists to better understand the nuances of many issues they must regulate. As a result of these efforts, better decisions that have a far greater impact on the United States and the global community are reached.
Lobbying and advocacy are, and will remain, an integral part of the United States’ political system. These efforts lead to better-informed decisions on policies that have an impact beyond the borders of the United States. Without these efforts, many policies of the United States would be frozen in time and unable to change as the world continues to evolve.
**Mr. Burkhalter is a former State Department official who spent a decade handling issues involving the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. For the past decade, he has been a lobbyist handling policy, grassroots advocacy, crisis management, technology, and national/global security issues. He currently resides outside of Washington, D.C.**