….Apart from the case of Carmen and Xavier, details contained in a half-dozen other lobbying proposals and service contracts obtained by the Center for Public Integrity through state and federal court filings as well as freedom of information requests reveal exponentially more information about lobbying efforts than what’s contained in quarterly reports submitted to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House….
From the abstract:
Recent research on influence has produced seemingly contradictory findings. On the one hand, some scholars have shown that on any given issue, economic resources show little relationship to the likelihood of policy success (Baumgartner et al. 2009). Yet, other scholars have found that policy outcomes match the preferences of the top interest groups and the well-off much better than the average citizen (Gilens 2012). This paper offers an empirical resolution to this puzzle by closely examining the advocacy activities of the top tier of interest groups in Washington. As the total population of interest organizations has increased beyond the capacity of the government to pay attention to all of them, the select few at the top — mostly business interests — have concentrated their resources toward maintaining their privileged status as major players. Using a new data set of 37,706 unique interest groups who reported lobbying between 1998 and 2012, we show that the organizations at the top in lobbying expenditures, number of lobbyists, and number of firms and staff, increasingly retain their privileged positions — but need to pay more to do so. We document lobbying activity trends for those organizations at the top of the extremely unequally distributed lobbying population. We find that organizations at the top in one year pay more to stay at the topeach successive year, even if that means shifting their issue agenda to whatever is on the minds of Congress.
How the Lobbying Top Tier explains an influence paradox
Source: Lee Drutman, Matt Grossmann, Tim LaPira, Sunlight Foundation blog, August 26, 2014
Lobbyists who seek to influence the U.S. federal government and state governments have gotten a lot of attention from journalists and researchers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2103 more than 12,000 registered lobbyists spent over three billion dollars attempting to influence the policies of the federal government; and similar efforts have been documented in the states, where both the amount and importance of lobbying has increased sharply since the late 1980s. Clearly, lobbying efforts are substantial. But too little is understood about whether – and how – lobbyist efforts pay off in actual influence over legislative outcomes. If influencing legislative policymaking is central to the task of lobbying – and if success means that one interest groups wins in competition with other groups pushing in a different direction – much uncertainty remains about the determinants of successful influence. …
Source: OpenSecrets.org, 2014
This is a series examining the years-long decline in both spending on lobbyists and the number of active lobbyists.
Waning Influence? Part 1: Tracking the “Unlobbyist”
Source: Dan Auble, OpenSecrets.org, March 18, 2014
Beginning in 2010, the Center for Responsive Politics documented a new trend in lobbying: the rise of the “unlobbyist.” The number of federally registered lobbyists who were active in a particular year began dropping in 2008 and has continued every year since. Our report last year showed that 46 percent of those who stopped lobbying in 2012 were actually still employed by the same firm. We argued that many of these ex-lobbyists simply shifted their job responsibilities slightly so as to avoid disclosure requirements and fly “under the radar.” Here, we’re extending our previous work. Through extensive research, we tracked the post-lobbying career paths of almost 1,800 registered, previously active lobbyists and found a similar pattern: Nearly half of them continued to work for the same companies — and some even still had job titles like “Director of Government Relations.” From these findings, it seems clear that lobbyists are not fleeing K Street in droves, but rather they are doing similar work for the same companies. Instead of doing it in the public eye, though, they have moved out of sight. …
Waning Influence, Part 2: Does Congressional Gridlock Lock Up K Street?
Source: Sarah Bryner, OpenSecrets.org, August 18, 2014
As the total amount of money spent on lobbying continues to fall, many analysts — including the staff at the Center for Responsive Politics — cite congressional gridlock as a cause of the decline. The 113th Congress, one of the least popular in history, is known for its apparent inability to pass legislation. Given the perceived ineffectiveness of Congress, it may be no surprise that the amount spent on lobbying – which is usually undertaken to influence members of the House and Senate — has declined. While a lobbying campaign could have resulted in the passage of a bill or a helpful earmark in the past, those who pay the lobbyists’ bills may find a gridlocked Congress to be an unappealing target. When faced with decisions about how to spend limited funds, clients may not be willing to gamble on Congress to come through for them. But the notion that lobbying dollars might flow more freely when Congress is passing many bills, though plausible, is untested. In this report, the second in our series documenting the decline in lobbying, we looked at whether the data actually supports the explanation that lobbying increases when Congress is productive. The results are a decidedly mixed bag. …
…It’s important to note that the “mass based interest groups” include groups like the National Rifle Association and American Israel Public Affairs Committee which do not share the interests of average citizens. At the same time, one corporate lobbying organization, the American Hospital Association, is actually slightly correlated with the interests of average Americans. To parse out which groups are aligned with the preferences of Americans and which are positively malign, I used data from Gilens’s book Affluence and Influence. I stuck to groups which had at least one statistically significant correlation (either positive or negative) with one group of voters (10th percentile, 50th percentile and 90th percentile). This comparison yields some interesting results. First, we can see that most unions actually take positions that strongly correlate with the preferences of all Americans, although the correlation is stronger for the lower and middle class….
Second, we can see that corporate lobbying groups do not, with one exception.
…To illustrate these differences, I’ve put the organizations on a scatter plot, divided into four quadrants. The y-axis shows where an organization aligns with the the top 90th percentile. The x-axis shows an organization’s correlation with the bottom 10th percentile. An organization in the upper right quadrant shares the preferences of the wealthy and the poor. An organization in the lower left does is working against the interests of Americans. Here we see that unions are all in the top right quadrant. No corporations are in the right half of the chart, indicating that none share the preferences of the poor….
Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens
Source: Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, Perspectives on Politics (forthcoming), March 7, 2014
For most people, grassroots activism brings to mind voluntary efforts mounted by community organizations, social movements, and citizen leaders. But today some of the most prominent mobilizers of mass public participation are consultants selling their services to corporations, industry associations, and other clients with interests in fights over legislation, ballot measures, and rulings by public agencies. Known as “public affairs consultants” or “grassroots lobbyists,” these paid experts seek out members of the general public who can help their client to win important policy battles. My research looks closely at these influential political professionals.
Most Americans support sick days off, but corporate lobbyists are working hard to change their minds. …. Eleven states have enacted paid-sick-day pre-emption laws since 2011. New research from the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) shows that six more states are considering kill-shot bills. The NPWF has found that some of these bills have even more extreme consequences than just banning paid-sick-day requirements: They would also prohibit local governments from increasing the minimum wage, imposing stiffer penalties for wage theft and enacting laws that could help employees assert their rights on the job. (An NPWF map of these pre-emption bills and laws is here.) It’s a game of legislative one-upmanship that could have serious public health consequences…..
From the summary:
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down two campaign finance provisions in the past few years that limited independent political expenditures by corporations and other organizations and placed aggregate limits on individual donations. The Court found that the provisions infringe on the right of free speech and that the aggregate limits do not prevent a narrowly defined version of corruption. Since then, federal courts have begun overturning state lobbying regulations under the logic used by the Supreme Court. While there is considerable disagreement about whether the Court was correct in finding that those campaign finance rules failed to prevent corruption, imposing limits on campaign financing and lobbying may be justified for another reason—promoting productive economic activity.
The primary way that campaign contributions and lobbying may dampen economic growth is via a practice known as rent-seeking—the process of seeking income through special government favors rather than through productive economic activity. When firms and individuals engage in rent-seeking behavior, it has several negative effects on economic growth. Not only do people spend more time and money trying to get a bigger piece of the economic pie for themselves rather than trying to enlarge the pie, but the policies they seek are often wasteful, inefficient, or even harmful. If rent-seeking is a successful strategy for businesses or individuals, it can impose great harm on society by slowing or even stopping economic growth…..
While it is impossible to quantify the economic harm done by rent-seeking to the American economy, this issue brief reviews the literature and finds that the harm is likely quite significant. …
Even worse, research indicates that campaign contributions and lobbying often help shape policy outcomes, which suggests that rent-seeking efforts are often successful. While disagreement exists about how much influence campaign contributions and lobbying have, money in politics seems to be most effective in shaping the outcomes of issues that are less visible and less ideological, exactly the type of special favors one would expect rent-seeking to target. Furthermore, there have been several findings that show a clear relationship between specific instances of lobbying or campaign contributions and government favors. To take just a few examples:
– One study found that increasing lobbying reduces a corporation’s effective tax rate, with an increase of 1 percent in lobbying expenditures expected to reduce a corporation’s next-year tax rate between 0.5 percentage points and 1.6 percentage points.
– Another study based on data from 48 different states found that a $1 corporate campaign contribution is worth $6.65 in lower state corporate taxes.
– Finally, federal contracts were more likely to be awarded to firms that have given federal campaigns higher contributions, even after controlling for previous contract awards…..
Who governs? Who really rules? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign, semi-sovereign, or largely powerless? These questions have animated much important work in the study of American politics. … The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. … In what follows, we briefly review the four theoretical traditions that form the framework for our analyses and highlight some of the most prominent empirical research associated with each. We then describe our data and measures and present our results. We conclude by discussing the implications of our work for understanding American democracy and by identifying some of the directions for future research that our findings suggest…
From the abstract:
For most of American history, until the 1950s, courts treated paid lobbying as a civic wrong, not a protected First Amendment right. Lobbying was presumptively against public policy, and lobbying contracts were not enforced. Paid lobbying threatened the integrity of individuals, legislators, lobbyists, and the integrity of society as a whole. Some states had laws criminalizing lobbying; Georgia had an anti-lobbying provision in its Constitution. Inasmuch as there was a personal right to either petition the government, or share views with officers of the government, this right was not something one could sell — it was not, in the term used by one court, a “vendible” — a sellable item. Line-drawing between illegitimate paid lobbying and legitimate legal services was not easy, but in general courts enforced contracts where the thing being sold was expertise to be shared in a public forum, while refusing to enforce contracts where the thing being sold was personal influence to be shared in private meetings.
During the mid-20th century, the practice of not enforcing lobbying contracts fell away. This change came from two things: the growing sanctity of contract, and the professionalization of the lobbying industry. State laws regulated lobbying instead of banning it. At the same time, as a constitutional matter, the law of lobbying occupied something of a no-mans land for many years — paid lobbying was neither explicitly protected by the First Amendment nor explicitly not protected. Supreme Court cases suggested, but did not hold, that paid lobbying was a First Amendment right. Only recently, and without much judicial discussion, has the legal-academic community presumed that there is a unique First Amendment right to pay someone to lobby, or be paid to lobby, grounded in the speech and/or petition clauses of the First Amendment. The scope of that right is unclear.
This Article tells the history of the earlier approaches towards lobbying. It explores the lobbying cases of the 19th and early 20th century courts, looking at the logic underpinning them and how courts distinguished between illegitimate lobbying and legitimate hiring of professional lawyers.
This Article is largely historical, but has doctrinal implications. First, it shows that as a matter of practice, there is no historical consensus on a First Amendment right to lobby. Second, the length and breadth of the treatment of lobbying as wrong — not a right — is indirect evidence that the First Amendment was not intended to protect paid lobbying. Third, the reasoning of the courts that invalidated lobbying contracts is still relevant to the degree of protection, and the kinds of activities that might be worthy of greater or lesser protection.