Outsourcing Influence: The Rise of For-Hire Corporate Lobbyists in the 1980s

Benjamin C. Waterhouse

The question “When does business win?” is deeply tied to longstanding debates in political science about the operation and effectiveness of interest groups, raising disciplinary questions about what exactly business historians have to offer. This paper argues for a more overtly historical approach to corporate lobbying in the late 20th century (those years in which “history” blends into the present, creating a methodological muddle). I suggest that business historians should examine corporate lobbying not as a set of political practices, but as an industry unto itself. After 1980, the lobbying industry became increasingly professionalized and fragmented, as well as specialized in its marketing. The industry’s trajectory reflected broader patterns within capitalism and business history, rather than an explicitly political logic. Conceiving of lobbying—the business of influence—in this way has the potential to reshape the types of questions scholars ask about how, when, and why “business wins.”