In addition to using public relations strategies to influence public opinion, lobbyists also engage in covert activities that are outside of the public’s purview. According to Koen Droste, of the Financial Times, two forms of covert lobbying include:
Iceberg Strategy. Lobbying is done only slightly in public, like the top of an iceberg, with the rest being done below the surface, covertly, where it’s safe from the often-unpredictable public debate.
Buoy Strategy. Lobbyists publicly put a topic on the agenda, where it is clearly visible above water (much like an anchored float), but then plan certain activities “under the surface” for the more controversial aspects of their agenda.
According to Droste, the Internet makes using the iceberg strategy far riskier because of the transparent nature of the online environment. He believes the rise of digital media gives the more transparent buoy strategy an advantage. An organization with an engaged online fan base can employ its fans to get a topic on the public agenda. The online marketplace eBay used this strategy when it collected nearly a million signatures for its policy proposal to end unfair online trading practices. Although this method of marshaling grassroots support is often called astroturfing by companies and government entities that are targets of organized campaigns, it has become an effective tool in public debate about public policy and is sure to become more so. Consider the success of online lobbying platforms such as Change.org, which can be initiated by anyone with a laptop (or smartphone) and access to the Internet.
According to some reports, over one-third of all Change.org petitions are successful. This includes a December 2015 petition asking President Obama to grant clemency to a first-time, nonviolent offender, Sharanda Jones, sentenced to life in prison under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. The petition was created by Jones’ daughter and was signed by over 280,000 people. An example of using Change.org to successfully lobby for a media-related cause is a 2011 petition created by Credo Action, a social change organization, lobbying U.S. legislators to fund National Public Radio (NPR). The petition received over 18,000 online signatures and resulted in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting during the 112th Congress, despite strong Republican opposition.
The cozy relationship of lobbyists and their former colleagues in public service jobs has grown as a policy issue: Are these lobbyists taking an unfair advantage of their relationships with government policymakers that shuts out the public’s interest? If so, what can be done?
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