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National cultures and languages are only part of the reason Brussels lobbyists need a different approach to their Washington counterparts. The political institutions in the two capitals are very different beasts with distinct behaviours:
● Money: The funding of politics by corporate donors through political action committees (PACs) lies at the heart of Washington politics, albeit regulated and capped. Brussels neither recognises nor regulates such practice.
● Non-profits: In Brussels, the commission tries to offset corporate lobbying by supporting non-profit voices. In Washington, the public funding of non-profit lobby groups is rare.
● Transparency: In Washington, the Lobbying Disclosure Act obliges lobby groups to detail their clients, the issues on which they lobby and the income received. In Brussels, lobby groups are asked to sign a voluntary code of conduct.
● Revolving door: High-fliers moving from government institutions to lobby groups and vice versa is much more common in Washington than in Brussels.
● Local vs national: In Washington, lobbyists tune into local issues that may have an impact on the re-election of Members of Congress. In Brussels, lobbyists need to build consensus across a wider spectrum of MEPs who tend to be more concerned with national issues.
However, according to Chicago Booth’s Marianne Bertrand, who teaches “The firm and non-market environment”, one thing is probably the same in Brussels as in Washington: when it comes to lobbying, it is not what you know, but who you know.
Her research, with colleagues from the University of British Columbia, found that Washington lobbyists tend to work on the same issues as the politicians they know, and will follow a politician when he or she gets reassigned to a new congressional committee.
The research also showed that clients tend to pay more for lobbyists who are well connected. “As a lobbyist, you need someone to pick up the phone on the other side so that you have a chance to tell your story,” she explains.