Category Archives: Lobbying

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.

Lobbying disclosures leave public in the dark /Contracts provide inside look at Washington’s influence industry

Source: Marcelo Rochabrun, Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity, August 25, 2014

….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….

The Interest Group Top Tier: More Groups, Concentrated Clout

Source: Lee Drutman, Matt Grossmann, Tim LaPira, APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, 2014

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.
Related:
How the Lobbying Top Tier explains an influence paradox
Source: Lee Drutman, Matt Grossmann, Tim LaPira, Sunlight Foundation blog, August 26, 2014