What Exactly is "Lobbyist Money"

CQPolitics digs in to the campaign promises of John Edwards and Barack Obama to not accept direct contributions from federal lobbyists in their respective bids for the White House. Emily Cadei spoke with Public Campaign's Nick Nyhart for the article, and he talked about why this promise, though a good start, does not fully address the way lobbyist cash can influence elections.

Some excerpts from the piece:

 

[I]dentifying campaign money that comes from individuals who lobby is not as simple as it seems, given that many individuals who lobby are also attorneys, and refer to themselves that way in the reports that accompany their contributions. Few self-identify as “lobbyists.”

Registered lobbyists themselves, moreover, are only one element of the broader universe of “lobbyist interest money,” according to Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign, a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. that advocates for limiting the influence of campaign money.

That universe includes large law and lobbying firms, which include workers who don’t lobby in Washington D.C., and around the country; political action committees (PACs) established by these firms to contribute money to candidates; and in-house lobbyists employed by large corporations, which also maintain PACs.

“(Registered) individual lobbyists represent only a small fraction of the money that comes in,” said Nyhart. ”The big money comes from the companies who hire the lobbyists,” Nyhart said. “But if you got rid of that, there’d be very little money in the system. That’s the dilemma.”

Nick goes on to laud the promise of the two candidates but to stress that it's just a first step. The real prize is public financing of all campaigns at the federal level (which both Edwards and Obama are on the record in support of) that avoids the various avenues through which money can be used for influence and levels the playing field among candidates who are then free to focus on the interests of their constituents.

Incidentally, it would also allow lobbyists to bow out of the fundraising game -- a necessary evil of doing business in Washington that many have expressed their disdain for.