WHEN lobbyists wanted to influence Congress a decade or two ago, they'd march up to Capitol Hill, meet with lawmakers, and request action. No longer. Today most Washington interest groups organize something that looks like a genuine grass-roots campaign, except that the strings are pulled from Washington.
Analysts here say the use of this pseudo-grass-roots approach is the most important change in recent years in Washington lobbies. But it is far from the only one.
The most obvious development is that the number of lobbyists has risen steadily, from 4,800 in 1980 to 6,821 at the end of last month, according to the Senate Office of Public Records.
``More lobbying has moved from states and communities to the District of Columbia as the federal government has taken over much that formerly was done by state and local governments,'' says Douglas Besharov, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Lobbyists aren't complaining: ``It's easier to lobby one government than 50,'' Mr. Besharov notes.
This trend may be reversed if states keep increasing their role in domestic programs as Washington continues to reduce its role. Battles in several state legislatures during the past year on abortion and gun control may be a forerunner of events to come: They brought forth heavy lobbying from all sides in those state legislatures.
Political scientists note another development that affects lobbying: Rising sentiment across America for stronger ethics in government. Fueled by the savings and loan and other scandals, and by public rage at last year's congressional pay raise, members of Congress appear to be much more cautious in dealing with lobbyists - especially when it comes to what might be perceived as sources of questionable income, like honoraria. Congressional investigations dealing with the issue of honoraria led last year to the resignations of House Speaker Jim Wright (D) of Texas and House majority whip Tony Coelho (D) of California and this month to a Senate ethics committee hearing involving David Durenberger (R) of Minnesota.