- Has no single agreed-upon definition (see the many definitions below).
- Is a fancy synonym for "bad for society" (see especially Tullock, 1989 below).
- Sometimes (but not always) refers specifically to lobbying (your example seems to be following this usage).
(In light of the above, my opinion/recommendation is that everyone should simply avoid using the term rent-seeking. If one simply means "bad for society", then one should just say that. If one is thinking of "lobbying", then one should just say that. However, I don't expect that my recommendation will be adopted because rent-seeking has the advantage of being an unfamiliar and technical-sounding term that helps writers sound more intelligent than they are.)
Krueger (1974) introduced the term rent-seeking:
In many market-oriented economies, government restrictions upon economic activity are pervasive facts of life. These restrictions give rise to rents of a variety of forms, and people often compete for the rents. Sometimes, such competition is perfectly legal. In other instances, rent seeking takes other forms, such as bribery, corruption, smuggling, and black markets.
Gordon Tullock credits himself with introducing the concept in 1967. Tullock himself gives various definitions of the term:
My suggestion is that we use the term “rent seeking” (and I always have) solely for cases in which whatever is proposed has a negative social impact.
Contradicting himself, Tullock (1987):
‘Rent seeking’ refers to the investment of resources in efforts to create monopolies.
Definitions by some other writers:
Hyde & Borzutzky (2016):
political rent-seeking—the pursuit of unearned income streams by lobbying government for market privileges
People are said to seek rents when they try to obtain benefits for themselves through the political arena. They typically do so by getting a subsidy for a good they produce or for being in a particular class of people, by getting a tariff on a good they produce, or by getting a special regulation that hampers their competitors. Elderly people, for example, often seek higher Social Security payments; steel producers often seek restrictions on imports of steel; and licensed electricians and doctors often lobby to keep regulations in place that restrict competition from unlicensed electricians or doctors.
the using up of real resources in an effort to secure the rights to economic rents that arise from government policies.
Bateman & McAdam (2003):
the act of trying to improve personal income at the expense of someone else, rather than by increased work or productivity
a person gets a rent if he or she earns an income higher than the minimum that person would have accepted, the minimum being usually defined as the income in his or her next-best opportunity ... Rents may take the form of higher rates of return in monopolies, the extra income from politically organized transfers such as subsidies, or the extra income which comes from owning scarce resources, whether natural resources or specialized knowledge. ...
Rent-seeking is the expenditure of resources and effort in creating, maintaining or transferring rents.
Spending time and money not on the production of real goods and services, but rather on trying to get the government to change the rules so as to make one's business more profitable. This can take various forms, including seeking subsidies on the outputs or the inputs of a business. or persuading the government to change the rules so as to keep out competitors, tolerate or promote collusion between those already engaged in an activity, or make legally compulsory the use of professional services.
Monopolizing activity. This is much criticized as it produces a social waste rather than a social surplus.
Murphy, Schleifer, & Vishny (1993):
any redistributive activity that takes up resources
The use of real resources in an attempt to appropriate a surplus in the form of a rent. An industry may use resources to lobby a government to impose a restriction such as a TARIFF on an imported good, so that the factors of productions in the industry earn payments in excess of their TRANSFER EARNINGS as a result of the higher market price for the good, which they produce. Consumers suffer two losses from rent seeking; the loss of CONSUMERS’ SURPLUS from the higher price and the loss of output from the resources devoted to rent-seeking. Resources may subsequently be devoted to rent protection. In international economics a related, though different, concept has been developed with the name, directly unproductive profit-seeking (DUP).
Bannock, Baxter, & Davis (1992):
Behaviour that improves the welfare of someone at the expense of the welfare of someone else. The most extreme example of rent-seeking behaviour is that of a protection racket, in which one group betters themselves without creating any welfare-enhancing output at all. Not all examples are criminal, however: the behaviour of labour or management when they put more effort into increasing their share of turnover, rather than into increasing the total volume of turnover, can be described as rent-seeking.