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Lobbying is a common practice in modern electoral politics, and when consumer product companies engage in it, it appears very much like a particularly targeted form of marketing. A recent lobbying trend features representatives from various companies, some of which are facing more restrictive legislation, interacting with the attorneys general of different states, working hard to convince them not to pass the proposed laws. The key challenge is finding the point at which such selling becomes unethical or even illegal forms of influence.

For example, when T-Mobile hoped to get legislators to require equitable sharing of the available wireless spectrum, it had its representative send an information packet to the attorney general of Washington state. This representative previously had been the deputy attorney general, suggesting his close relationship with the acting head. The information clearly was convincing, in that it led the sitting attorney general to release it as his official position, with minimal changes to the wording.

Woman listening to music on a mobile phoneAt an invitation-only event for attorneys general across the country, gift bags contained samples of 5-Hour Energy, a company facing misleading advertising charges in several states. A recording industry group, which also seeks stronger regulations over file sharing, provided Roy Orbison CDs. The Las Vegas Sands Hotel group paid half a million dollars to sponsor the event and also sent a representative whose marketing campaign seeks to make online gambling illegal.

Currently, no law exists to limit lobbying of attorneys general, whereas various regulations specify how and when lobbyists can contact Congresspeople. However, attorneys general have strong influence over what cases get prosecuted or not, as well as which laws are likely to pass. The marketing efforts by lobbyists, seeking to sway the target market of law enforcement officials to agree with them, thus make sense.

Attorneys general also are public servants, in office to be “the people’s lawyer.” Because they run for office, they often face expensive requirements to maintain their position. These combined elements can make for a dangerous situation in which the company that markets itself the best, whether ethically or not, is the one that benefits from the laws instituted.

Source: Eric Lipton, “Lobbyists, Bearing Gifts, Pursue Attorneys General,” The New York Times, October 28, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com

Discussion Questions

Apply the ethical decision making metric to marketing efforts by lobbyists to influence states’ attorneys general.