Lobbyists are, in a manner of speaking, paid activists with political influence. They are hired by interest groups to help change public opinion, whether through an advertising campaign, or more “direct” efforts with opinion makers or those involved in legislature.
The word lobbyist comes from the word lobby – the small room in hotels or legislative houses where they can supposedly meet these persons of power and influence. However, many organizations of lobbyists hold their office on K Street, an area within Washington D.C. Due to this, “K Street” has become associated with them.
While lobbying is generally accepted and recognized, measures have been taken to regulate it, especially because it can easily lend itself to bribery. This becomes particularly sensitive when it comes to dealing with elected public officials. Some regulatory measures are strict rules on the types of gifts that politicians can receive, and the pressure to return monetary gifts especially if they are of very high amounts.
Fortunately most lobbyists do not have to resort to such practices, though the few “black sheep” tend to get so much media attention that the reputation of lobbyists are affected. For many, however, lobbyists are a “necessary evil” – crucial to making sure that a worthy cause gets the attention of enough opinion makers.
It is interesting that legislators often become lobbyists after their terms have ended. Tapping into their network of colleagues, they can be powerful (and often very highly paid) allies of a cause. Though it could be seen as an abuse of position (or rather, former position) it is legal and generally accepted.