Toward an Ethics of Being Lobbied: Affirmative Obligations to Listen
Heidi Li Feldman
Georgetown University Law Center
August 24, 2016
Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, Forthcoming
Lobbying in the U.S. today grows out of a historical legal and, eventually, Constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievances. English kings, the English Parliament, and American colonial legislatures had incentives for not only recognizing the right but treating it fulsomely, as a means for communicating extensively with the widest possible range of those over whom kings, Parliament, and legislatures had or sought to have power. Because of drastic changes in circumstance, today's officials do not have this incentive. Financial and structural forces tend to narrow the range of people legislators and elected executives hear from. In other words, there is a systematic tendency for representatives and other elected officials to be lobbied only by a subset of people they govern. Those lobbied under these conditions have, I will argue, affirmative obligations to ensure that they communicate with those who lack the means, financial or otherwise to engage in lobbying and even with those who may lack present motivation to lobby because of relative unawareness of the need to communicate with those in political office.
This paper identifies and elaborates the ethical importance attached of representatives and elected executives hearing from the widest range of the populace possible. Such ethical significance attaches regardless of one's theory of representation in a republican democracy. The paper argues that legislators and executives have affirmative obligations to engage in meaningful communication even with people who cannot or ordinarily do not initiate efforts to reach them. It concludes by making some specific, concrete recommendations about measures elected representatives and executives could take to fulfill these ethical obligations.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 13
Keywords: lobbying, ethics, right to petition the government, listening, affirmative obligations to listen
JEL Classification: K40, K49
Date posted: February 18, 2014 ; Last revised: August 25, 2016