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Finally, there are penalties for violating the law. Lobbyists and, in some cases, government officials can be fined, banned from lobbying, or even sentenced to prison. While state and federal laws spell out what activities are legal and illegal, the attorneys general and prosecutors responsible for enforcing lobbying regulations may be understaffed, have limited budgets, or face backlogs of work, making it difficult for them to investigate or prosecute alleged transgressions. While most lobbyists do comply with the law, exactly how the laws alter behavior is not completely understood. We know the laws prevent lobbyists from engaging in certain behaviors, such as by limiting campaign contributions or preventing the provision of certain gifts to lawmakers, but how they alter lobbyists’ strategies and tactics remains unclear.

The need to strictly regulate the actions of lobbyists became especially relevant after the activities of lobbyist Jack Abramoff were brought to light ( [link] ). A prominent lobbyist with ties to many of the Republican members of Congress, Abramoff used funds provided by his clients to fund reelection campaigns, pay for trips, and hire the spouses of members of Congress. Between 1994 and 2001, Abramoff, who then worked as a lobbyist for a prominent law firm, paid for eighty-five members of Congress to travel to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the Pacific. The territory’s government was a client of the firm for which he worked. At the time, Abramoff was lobbying Congress to exempt the Northern Mariana Islands from paying the federal minimum wage and to allow the territory to continue to operate sweatshops in which people worked in deplorable conditions. In 2000, while representing Native American casino interests who sought to defeat anti-gambling legislation, Abramoff paid for a trip to Scotland for Tom DeLay, the majority whip in the House of Representatives, and an aide. Shortly thereafter, DeLay helped to defeat anti-gambling legislation in the House. He also hired DeLay’s wife Christine to research the favorite charity of each member of Congress and paid her $115,000 for her efforts.

Geov Parrish, “Making Sense of the Abramoff Scandal,” 19 December 2005 http://www.alternet.org/story/29827/making_sense_of_the_abramoff_scandal (March 1, 2016).
In 2008, Jack Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison for tax evasion, fraud, and corruption of public officials.
Neil A. Lewis, “Abramoff Gets 4 Years in Prison for Corruption,” New York Times , 4 September 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/05/washington/05abramoff.html?_r=0.
He was released early, in December 2010.

An image of Jack Abramoff standing between Ronald Reagan and Grover Norquist.
Jack Abramoff (center) began his lifetime engagement in politics with his involvement in the 1980 presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan (left) while an undergraduate at Brandeis University and continued it with his election to chair of the College Republican National Committee in a campaign managed by Grover Norquist (right). Abramoff thus gained unique access to influential politicians, upon which he capitalized in his later work as a DC lobbyist. Since his release from federal prison in 2010 after being convicted for illegal lobbying activity, Abramoff has become an outspoken critic of the lobbying industry.
http://gawker.com/5856082/corrupt-lobbyist-jack-abramoffs-plan-to-end-corrupt-lobbying (March 1, 2016).


Some argue that contributing to political candidates is a form of free speech. According to this view, the First Amendment protects the right of interest groups to give money to politicians. However, others argue that monetary contributions should not be protected by the First Amendment and that corporations and unions should not be treated as individuals, although the Supreme Court has disagreed. Currently, lobbyist and interest groups are restricted by laws that require them to register with the federal government and abide by a waiting period when moving between lobbying and lawmaking positions. Interest groups and their lobbyists are also prohibited from undertaking certain activities and are required to disclose their lobbying activities. Violation of the law can, and sometimes does, result in prison sentences for lobbyists and lawmakers alike.

Baumgartner, Frank R., and Beth L. Leech. 1998. Basic Interests: The Importance of Groups in Politics and in Political Scienc e. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Baumgartner, Frank R., et al. 2009. Lobbying and Policy Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Clark, Peter B., and James Q. Wilson, “Incentive Systems: A Theory of Organizations,” Administration Science Quarterly 6 (1961): 129–166.

Dahl, Robert A. 1956. A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

———. 1961. Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Lindblom, Charles E. 1977. Politics and Markets: The World’s Political-Economic Systems. New York: Basic Books.

Olson, Mancur. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action . Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Rosenstone, Steven J. and John Mark Hansen. 1993. Mobilization, Participation and Democracy in America . New York: Macmillan.

Salisbury, Robert, “An Exchange Theory of Interest Groups,” Midwest Journal of Political Science 13 (1969): 1–32.

Schattschneider, E. E. 1960. The Semisovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America . New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Truman, David. 1951. The Governmental Process . New York: Alfred A. Knopf, chapter 4.

Wright, John R. 1996. Interest Groups and Congress: Lobbying, Contributions, and Influence . Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

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