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If lobbying were illegal, it would be nice. It’s a tempting thought, but it seems impossible to criminalize lobbying. This multi-billion-dollar industry is widely accepted in American politics, and courts have generally ruled that it is protected speech.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling made it possible for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on advertisements and Super Pacs supporting or opposing a candidate.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the legal system of the United States regarded lobbying as corrupt. Although it still happens, some forms of lobbying have been banned. This was done without a legal challenge, as courts considered lobbying to be in conflict with the rights of citizens.

This notion of a broken American tradition has been documented by political activist and academic candidate Z. Teachout. She believes that Americans need to remember the obligation to represent themselves in the political process when it comes to lobbying.

In 1785, France’s King gave Benjamin Franklin an expensive gift: a diamond-encrusted snuff box.

The gift was not a response to Franklin’s rumored drug use. It was a parting gift, and it represented the respect that France had for the US. As a diplomat, Franklin represented the country in Europe.

In 1999, a case involving a farmer’s association overturned a federal ban on gifts to officials. The group gave the Agriculture Secretary various perks, such as free meals and sports tickets, and the official then used these benefits to promote policies. Despite the court’s ruling, the organization could still give the official these gifts. Justice Antonin Scalia argued that banning all gifts could lead to absurdities. 

In the Citizens United case involving corporate spending, Justice Kennedy stated that ingratitude and access are not corruption.

According to Teachout, this logic goes against judges’ reasoning during the 18th and 19th centuries.

For over a hundred years, judges have been convinced that using one’s influence to gain access to members of Congress would lead to corruption.

According to Teachout, a 19th-century legal textbook stated that contracts made to provide services to members of Congress are not allowed. This means businesses cannot hire lobbyists and are not obligated to pay their fees. Over the years, courts in the US have considered lobbying unlawful.

The First Amendment’s significance has changed significantly over time. According to Teachout, the First Amendment and lobbying have been revised over time. One of the first significant changes occurred in 1890 when Massachusetts became the first state to require lobbyists to register with the government.

The court’s stance on protecting and honoring contracts also changed. In the past, courts often considered the public interest when deciding if contracts should be enforced.