Should we really be calling public speech "lobbying"?
The dictionary meaning of the verb "to lobby" is "To try to influence the thinking of legislators or other public officials for or against a specific cause."
Black's Law Dictionary — I'm looking at the 6th edition — defines "lobbying" as:
All attempts including personal solicitation to influence legislators to vote in a certain way or to introduce legislation.But the political speech that the Supreme Court was talking about — advertising and a full-length movie about a candidate — isn't aimed at legislators and trying to influence their votes. It's trying to persuade voters. Why are we calling that lobbying?
This speech is out in the open for all to hear and accept or reject. It's not behind-the-scenes. There's no special access involved. Think of the origin of the term. It actually involves a lobby — in the sense of a foyer or antechamber:
Most likely, we got the term from the English Parliament, where petitioners would hang out in the corridors and reception rooms outside the chambers in which the legislature met, and try to talk to and persuade individual Members of Parliament to take up their cause as the Members walked in and out of the sessions...But you don't hang around in a lobby — literally or figuratively — trying to get the ear of a legislator when you're exercising the the right the Supreme Court was talking about. You're talking to the people — the voters — and you're doing your best to get what you're saying out where everyone can hear it. I wouldn't call that "lobbying." And the reason against calling it lobbying is also a reason against suppressing it. The speech is out there in the marketplace of ideas, competing with other speech, exposed to argument and refutation.
[W]herever lawmakers have met — including Federal Hall in New York, the first seat of our U.S. Congress in 1789, and Congress Hall in Philadelphia, hangers-on and both wealthy and desperate petitioners were seen gathering in the rooms around the assembly, some of which were, and are, called "lobbies." The reception and meeting area behind the House chamber in the Capitol, for example, is referred to as the "Speaker's Lobby."
Another story has it that the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington -- one of its oldest and grandest — was frequented by wealthy special interest petitioners who were looking to intercept Members of Congress and the President, whose residence was a mere block away, as they came to dine there. It is said that President Ulysses S. Grant wearied of the petitioners whom he scornfully labeled as "the lobbyists."
Now, you might want to say that some speech is too loud and pervasive and strong, too much able to drown out competing voices in the marketplace of ideas. But if that's what you really want to say, it will be kind of ridiculous if you are The New York Times.
ADDED: On rereading, I can see that the NYT made the distinction between lobbying and political speech that I'm insisting on. Their — its — idea of the new "weapon" is not the speech that corporations will make in the public sphere, but rather the threats of speech that lobbyists — defined properly — will make in private too legislators:
“We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you — whichever one you want,’ ” a lobbyist can tell lawmakers....