Category Archives: Lobbying

How business lobby networks shaped the U.S. Freedom of Information Act: An examination of 60 years of congressional testimony

Source: Jeannine E. Relly, Carol B. Schwalbe, Government Information Quarterly, In Press, Available online 6 July 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The news media and public interest groups pushed hard for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966. Since then, however, a majority of FOIA requests have been filed by business representatives or their lawyers, a phenomenon also observed in other countries that have adopted similar legislation. Although myriad policy networks helped shape the present-day U.S. law, this article focuses on the congressional testimony of business interests in the years leading up to the adoption of the FOIA and the following 50 years, as the legislation reaches its half-century anniversary. The authors undertook this research because business interests are the largest requester group under the FOIA. Their influence has been noted in a small strand of literature, largely related to the courts, in steering the degree to which the public has access to information. This study found that business interests, particularly from the 1980s on, played a key role in shaping the FOIA by decreasing access to government-held information. This is a critical finding, given that the FOIA was adopted to promote the democratic norm of governmental accountability.

Highlights:
• Business and corporate representatives are the majority of U.S. FOIA requesters.
• Business networks, from the 1980s on, played a key role in shaping the FOIA.
• Industry networks lobbying for FOIA amendments represented interests of the time.
• Critical junctures provided policy openings for business shaping the FOIA.

Related:
Businesses have worked to cut ‘public’s right to know’
Source: Mike Chesnick, Futurity, July 8, 2016

….Relly’s and Schwalbe’s study began with a review of paper records of congressional testimony from the 1950s and ’60s at the State Library of Arizona, then progressed to digital records of testimony from that period to this past year.

For 40 of the FOIA’s 50 years, Relly says, “We found clearly that corporations and business organizations—sometimes representing thousands of companies—pressed lawmakers in testimony and behind the scenes to advance legislation that would advantage industries and disadvantage the public.”….

The Kochs Spend Tons of Cheddar Badgering America’s Dairyland

Source: Bridge Project, April 2016

From the press release:
Bridge Project Releases “The Kochs Spend Tons of Cheddar Badgering America’s Dairyland” about the Koch Brothers’ Corporate Lobbying and Political Front Groups in Their Effort to Maximize Profits
Milwaukee, WI—For the 2016 election cycle, Charles and David Koch have announced they are on track to spend nearly $900 million to elect politicians that would push their self-serving agenda. In Wisconsin, the Koch brothers have spent more than $44 million since 2010, helping to foster the rise of Gov. Scott Walker, Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Ron Johnson, and to fund political astroturf groups to carry their water…..The Koch network has invested heavily in lobbying to directly assert their influence on the state’s policy agenda. Since 2010, the Kochs have spent $2.6 million lobbying on dozens of pieces of legislation to further their corporate agenda at the expense of Wisconsin’s workers, environment, students, and families. In addition, the Koch astroturf network has been on the frontlines fighting for some of the most regressive political efforts in Wisconsin in recent years. They pushed for devastating anti-labor efforts including the silencing of workers, eliminating the prevailing wage, and preventing a raise of the minimum wage. The Koch-backed ALEC created dozens of pieces of boilerplate legislation, many of which have been incorporated into Walker’s radical education agenda. They fought tooth and nail to turn the state against healthcare reform and block the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. And finally, to protect the full profit-generating capacity of their Wisconsin operations, the Kochs have railed against the EPA and renewable energy development while simultaneously praising the Keystone pipeline and open pit iron mining. Absolutely nothing in Wisconsin could deter the Kochs from their selfish objectives. Their agenda proves that they are willing to compromise the lives and livelihoods of Wisconsin families, and their record shows that they would even stoop so low as to malign Native Americans and target minority and student voters in fraudulent schemes to achieve their full objectives…..

Conservative groups helped gut Wisconsin election laws

Source: Cady Zuvichemail, Center for Public Integrity, December 16, 2015

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law on Wednesday measures that transform campaign finance rules and a government accountability board — two bills pushed by the very same conservative political groups implicated in an investigation into his campaign.

The new laws arrive five months after Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court closed a three-year investigation into whether Walker and moneyed conservative nonprofits illegally coordinated campaign strategy during the Republican’s 2012 recall campaign for governor. The court cleared Walker and conservative allies of any wrongdoing on the basis that Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws were “unconstitutionally vague and broad,” opening the doors for legislative rewrite.

Then the same groups named in the investigation, Wisconsin’s Manufacturers and Commerce and Wisconsin Club for Growth, pushed for the bills through lobbying and robocalls…..

The Invisible Hand of Law: Private Regulation and the Rule of Law

Source: Joel Bakan, Cornell International Law Journal, Vol. 48 no. 2, Spring 2015

…Until the 1980s, and over the previous half century, law had served (albeit unevenly and incompletely) as the main institutional vehicle for policing corporations in aid of public interests, thereby protecting people, communities, and the environment from corporate excess and malfeasance. Over the course of the 1980s and thereafter, however, law’s protective role began to diminish, and privately promulgated voluntary regimes (hereinafter “private regulation”) emerged in its place.

Importantly, no such diminishment occurred in relation to law’s parallel and prominent role in protecting corporations and their interests. Here, state legal regimes continued to operate as robustly as ever; incorporate companies; establish their mandates; protect their rights as “persons”; shield their managers, directors, and shareholders from legal liability; compel their officers to prioritize their “best interests” (typically construed as increasing shareholder value); articulate and enforce their contract and property rights; and repress dissidents and protesters who opposed their growing power.

Corporations— indeed, corporate capitalism— could not exist without these legal foundations and supports, which taken together represent a massive infusion of state legal power into society. Despite that massive infusion, many private regulation advocates and commentators presume that globalization eviscerates state legal power, and prescribe, on that basis, that private regimes should take law’s place. This Article challenges that presumption and prescription. Following examination of the rise of private regulation in Part I, Part II reveals how private regulation advocacy and commentary often obscure, and effectively render invisible, law’s robust role in constituting and protecting corporations, thereby exaggerating globalization’s alleged diminishment of state legal power. Part III claims that private regulation weakens the rule of law and its democratic potential, with the effect, Part IV explains, of exacerbating corporate threats to public interests…..

Legislative Influence Detector (LID)

Source: University of Chicago, Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship, 2015

Journalists, researchers, and concerned citizens would like to know who’s actually writing legislative bills. But trying to read those bills, let alone trace their source, is tedious and time consuming. This is especially true at the state level, where important policy decisions are made every day. State legislatures consider roughly 70,000 bills each year, covering taxes, education, healthcare, crime, transportation, and more. To solve this problem, we have created a tool we call the “Legislative Influence Detector” (LID, for short). LID helps watchdogs turn a mountain of text into digestible insights about the origin and diffusion of policy ideas and the real influence of various lobbying organizations. LID draws on more than 500,000 state bills (collected by the Sunlight Foundation) and 2,400 pieces of model legislation written by lobbyists (collected by us, ALEC Exposed, and other groups), searches for similarities, and flags them for review. LID users can then investigate the matches to look for possible lobbyist and special interest influence.
Related:
When Lobbyists Write Legislation, This Data Mining Tool Traces The Paper Trail
Source: Jessica Leber, Fast Company, Co.Exist, October 26, 2015

Big data is helping to bring transparency to the darker corners of politics. …. But even for expert researchers, journalists, and government transparency groups, tracing a bill’s lineage isn’t easy—especially at the state level. Last year alone, there were 70,000 state bills introduced in 50 states. It would take one person five weeks to even read them all. Groups that do track state legislation usually focus narrowly on a single topic, such as abortion, or perhaps a single lobby groups. Computers can do much better. A prototype tool, presented in September at Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange 2015 conference, mines the Sunlight Foundation’s database of more than 500,000 bills and 200,000 resolutions for the 50 states from 2007 to 2015. It also compares them to 1,500 pieces of “model legislation” written by a few lobbying groups that made their work available, such as the conservative group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and the liberal group the State Innovation Exchange (formerly called ALICE). …. Like a plagiarism detector, the prototype can detect similar language in different bills. ….

State legislators’ sources and use of information: bridging the gap between research and policy

Source: Elizabeth A. Dodson, Nora A. Geary and Ross C. Brownson, Health Education Research, Advance Access, First published online: October 13, 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Research can inform policymakers of public health issues and shape policy decisions, hopefully benefiting public health; thus, improving dissemination of research to policymakers is important for developing effective public health policies that improve health and health equity. However, the utilization of research among policymakers is often not fully realized. This study builds upon current knowledge about what types of information legislators seek when working on health issues and where they go for information. Further, it explores what kinds of information legislators find most helpful and if there are ways researchers could better provide this evidence. Key-informant interviews were conducted with 25 U.S. state legislators holding health committee leadership positions between July and November, 2010. Regarding types of information sought, most legislators discussed their desire for data and statistics when working on health-related issues. When asked about their most trusted sources of information, participants mentioned government sources as well as advocacy, lobby and industry groups. A few mentioned universities and healthcare professionals. Results from this study offer public health researchers and practitioners’ insights into the types of information that may be most helpful to policymakers. Insights gathered may improve the dissemination of research and bridge the gap between knowledge users and knowledge producers.

The Racial Equity Impact of Secret Political Spending by Government Contractors

Source: Naila Awan & Liz Kennedy, Dēmos, 2015

From the summary:
….Many have called for measures that would pull back the curtain on corporate political spending. Greater transparency of such spending is particularly needed with respect to government contractors, who are given taxpayer dollars to do the people’s business. These contractors often turn around and engage in political spending to influence policies that preserve their profits at the public’s expense, or affect contracting decisions. Government contractors often heavily advocate for, and profit when the federal government adopts, policies that disproportionately harm people of color and other traditionally disenfranchised populations. An executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending would help the public hold government contractors accountable for political spending that benefits their bottom lines while entrenching structural racism in our country…..

How to Email Congress and Make It Count

Source: Chris Nehls, CQ Roll Call, 2014
(subscription required)

…The sheer volume of electronic communications that most offices receive mean that congressional staff place a priority on efficiently sorting and prioritizing incoming messages. How much email does Congress get? The Senate received almost 143 million communiqués through Oct. 21 of this year, and the House received roughly the same amount through September, according to officials in both chambers. In the Senate, that’s more than eight emails for every one incoming phone call. But despite the volume, it is still possible to initiate two-way email dialog with Congressional offices, by understanding how they process communications and using a few techniques to insure you are taken seriously. While staffers rarely speak publicly about how email is parsed and addressed inside the Congress, CQ Roll Call spoke privately to sources, including those still working on Capitol Hill and former staffers, in order to compile some strategies that can help insure that your email—and your message—has a fighting chance. ….

Lobbying Behavior of Governmental Entities: Evidence from Public Pension Accounting Rules

Source: Abigail M. Allen, Reining Petacchi, Harvard Business School Accounting & Management Unit Working Paper No. 15-043, November 30, 2014

From the abstract:
We examine the lobbying behavior of state governments in the development of recently issued public pension accounting standards GASB 67 and 68. Consistent with opportunistic motivations, we find that states’ opposition to the liability increasing provisions embedded in these standards is increasing in the severity of pension plan underfunding, state budget deficits, and the use of high discount rates. Further we find opposing states are subject to more stringent balanced budget requirements and greater political pressure from unions. By contrast, we find evidence that the support from financial statement users for these provisions is amplified in states with poorly funded plans and large budget deficits, suggesting government lobbying is misaligned with a public interest perspective. We also find evidence that user support varies by type: internal users (public employees) overwhelmingly oppose the standards, relative to external users (credit analysts and the broader citizenry) but the difference is moderated in states with constitutionally protected benefits. This finding is consistent with the expectation that pension accounting reform will motivate cuts in pension benefits as opposed to increased levels of funding from the governments. Analyses of 2011 and 2012 state pension reforms confirm that states opposed to accounting reform are more likely to cut pension benefits.