#12 power
Volker Kitz / Olga Kisselmann

Lobbyism: Powerful Interests, Powerfully Represented

Democracy is all about representing, discussing and protesting interests. But isn't there a difference between when an NGO protests to save the environment and the tobacco lobby, for instance, negotiating with politicians on behalf of their own interests? Not necessarily, according to author Volker Kitz.

In countries like Germany, the term "lobbying" comes with a lot of negative baggage. But that is not really right, according to author Volker Kitz, who sees "lobbying" as a way to actively take part in democracy. The tricks and strategies of lobbyists – the art of negotiation and persuasion – could also help a great many of us in our day-to-day lives.

Why do lobbyists have such a bad reputation in Germany?

Lobbying in Germany is only associated with unpopular decisions. Whenever the masses are outraged about something, it has to be the machinations of the lobbyists. It is quite astonishing how frowned upon it is in our society to stand up for one's interests. Yet that is exactly what characterizes a functioning democracy: different societal groups articulating their interests and integrating them into the political process. It is the task of politics to ultimately balance these at times diverging interests as best as possible.

If I understand you correctly, you would say that lobbying is an important element of democracy.

I would go so far as to say that discussing and representing interests is the core of democracy. Every segment of society has its own interests – and they all engage in lobbying, not just the big corporations. The non-smokers lobby just like the tobacco industry does. We have unions, human rights and environmental organisations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International, churches, and associations of dog owners and allotment holders. They all engage in lobbying.

How do the lobbyists employed by companies proceed?

In Germany many lobbyists are lawyers. They are hired by companies or organisations to represent their interests at the political level. If a ministry drafts a new law, it sends a copy of the bill to those affected by the law – as a rule interest groups. This is part of the ministries' rules of procedure. In contrast to public perception, lobbyists do not break into offices and steal secret documents. They get them through official channels. It is the lobbyist's job to analyse the impact of the bill on the company or social group he or she represents and then issue an opinion. Many bills undergo a hearing process in the ministries and Bundestag, and of course the parties involved also meet individually.

Would you go so far as to say that lobbyists really support politicians in their work?

Politicians have to make so many decisions about so many bills from a wide range of areas that it is impossible for them to know everything they need to. So they talk to experts. I don't see that as problematic – it would be much more problematic if they didn't! But in the public eye this contact between lobbyists and politicians is often presented as scandalous.

Every social group practices lobbying, and it is not necessarily the richest who win.

It seems though that the rich and influential are primarily the ones who can afford powerful lobbying.

Every social group practices lobbying, and it is not necessarily the richest who win. Many people talk about the powerful tobacco and nuclear power lobbies. Yet in this country the tobacco industry is one of the most regulated industries, and nuclear power has for all intents and purposes been legally eliminated. It is also not uncommon for companies and consumers to share similar interests.

Can you give an example?

When I worked as a lobbyist for the media branch, I fought the Data Retention Directive. Almost everyone was against it – consumers, because it involved the storage of their data, and companies because they would have to pay for the data storage. Together we succeeded in at least mitigating the original plans.

But don't lobbyists also sometimes use money as a form of persuasion? When we think of lobbyism, we have an image of a fat wallet or even a suitcase full of cash.

No serious lobbyist works with money. First of all, it is generally illegal. And secondly, everyone has to conserve their resources and no one has the requisite suitcase of cash just lying around. The art of lobbying is to persuade someone without resorting to money. Otherwise a lobbyist is not earning his or her keep.

Where, then, does all the criticism of lobbying come from?

Well there are legitimate points of criticism. In Germany, for example, the definition of what constitutes bribing a representative is vague. While it is illegal to buy concrete votes in the Bundestag, buying the general good will of a representative with presents or donations is not. This is much more closely regulated in other countries.

Where do you think the line is being crossed?

When a person who represents certain interests is the same person who makes decisions regarding these interests. So when a representative is also a lobbyist. This is also legal in Germany. Some members of the Bundestag are officially on the payroll of companies or organizations. You can learn a lot about it on the Bundestag website – but very few people bother to look at the informational already available before calling for more transparency.

Back to lobbyists and the art of persuasion. What does this art entail? In your book "Du machst was ich will" (You'll do what I want), you note that the actual content of an argument is less important that a feeling of sympathy and personal closeness.

Buch-Cover des Buches von Volker Kitz 'Du machst, was ich will. Wie Sie bekommen, was Sie wollen – ein Ex-Lobbyist verrät die besten Tricks.' Ariston Verlag, München 2013
Du machst, was ich will. Wie Sie bekommen, was Sie wollen – ein Ex-Lobbyist verrät die besten Tricks. Ariston Verlag, München 2013, ISBN 978-3424200829

Yes, that's true. At the core it is all about maintaining interpersonal relationships. It is fairly easy to explain why rational arguments alone are not enough: everything has two sides, in politics as in real life. There are strong arguments for and against any decision that needs to be made. It is not enough for a lobbyist to approach a politician with good arguments, since the next lobbyist – who represents a different standpoint – will do the same. I have therefore never heard a politician in a debate say: "Your arguments have convinced me, I will change my stance on this issue."

The art of lobbying involves recognizing different interests and bringing them together.

That sounds very fatalistic. In many cases there is surely a decision that would be objectively best for the country and its citizens.

What decision do you think that might be? Every decision benefits some and harms others – there is no decision that offers benefits all around. So every politician has to decide who he wants to take from and who he wants to give to. Politics is always client politics with no exceptions. The decisions made also depend on what serves the politicians own interests – generally this is an interest in being re-elected. So the art of lobbying involves recognizing different interests and bringing them together.

You have said that your book is not just for experts, but could also interest any citizen. What might people learn from your book?

The techniques lobbyists use could help us achieve our goals in daily life – in our private lives and at work. I would like to teach my readers the psychological methods I learned as a lobbyist. These include understanding that it is less about arguments and more about feelings of sympathy. I am much more willing to do a favour for someone who I find appealing.

Can you give us an example?

Let's take work as an example: promotions and pay rises generally go to the employee who is well liked, not the high performer. So instead of trying to win my boss over by pointing to my excellent job performance, I should make sure that he likes me. This is how the human psyche works, whether we like it or not. If I don't like someone, I will not agree with his arguments no matter how logical and convincing they might be.

Is there a trick to being popular and well-liked by everyone?

One effective method is to create similarities. People like others who are like them. This is related to our brain's inherent laziness. It prefers to deal with familiar structures rather than having to evaluate new things. So a person who looks like me is more likely to do me a favour. This is something to keep in mind if I have the option of choosing who I talk to. Other similarities help as well: the same family situation, favourite football team, favourite restaurant, or if we both smoke. If I find these kinds of similarities and cultivate them, then I can immediately engender a feeling of identification and togetherness and my partner will be much more likely to be persuaded by the content of my arguments. That is just one of the many techniques I describe in my book.

Photosource: “Pixabay

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