Category Archives: Politics

How Grassroots Lobbying Consultants are Reshaping Public Participation in Policy Battles

Source: Edward Walker, Scholars Strategy Network, SSN Key Findings, May 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.

State Employment Trends: Does a Low Tax/Right-to-Work/Low Minimum Wage Regime Correlate to Growth?

Source: Menzie Chinn, Econbrowser, April 21, 2014

It’s interesting how “pro-business” policies do not appear to be conducive to rapid employment growth. Employment in Governor Walker’s Wisconsin, as in Governor Brownback’s Kansas, has lagged behind that of the United States (and behind that of Governor Dayton’s Minnesota and Governor Brown’s California). …

Do Justices Defend the Speech They Hate? In-Group Bias, Opportunism, and the First Amendment

Source: Lee Epstein, Christopher M. Parker, Jeffrey A. Segal, Revised version of a paper presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, 2014

From the abstract:
In contrast to the traditional political science view, which holds that justices on the left are more supportive of free speech claims than justices on the right, and in contrast to a newer view among legal academics that justices on the right are more supportive of free speech claims than justices on the left, we use in-group bias theory to argue that Supreme Court justices are opportunistic supporters of free speech. That is, liberal (conservative) justices are supportive of free speech when the speaker is liberal (conservative).

A two-level hierarchical model of 4,519 votes in 516 cases confirms the in-group bias hypothesis. Although liberal justices are (overall) more supportive of free speech claims than conservative justices, the votes of both liberal and conservative justices tend to reflect their preferences toward the speakers’ ideological grouping, and not solely an underlying taste for (or against) the First Amendment.
Click here for a summary of the findings prepared for the New York Times
Click here for the data (Stata .dta file) (posted on May 2, 2014) (an Excel file is here)

In Justices’ Votes, Free Speech Often Means ‘Speech I Agree With’
Source: Adam Liptak, New York Times, May 5, 2014

How Campaign Contributions and Lobbying Can Lead to Inefficient Economic Policy

Source: John Craig and David Madland, Center for American Progress, May 2, 2014

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…..

Why cutting the government doesn’t make it more efficient

Source: Noah Smith, The Week, Noahpinion, April 24, 2014

A corporate explanation for why government cuts usually backfire.

Lots of people seem to think that A) government is very inefficient, and that therefore B) we can make society more efficient by cutting the size of government. But actually, (B) doesn’t follow from (A). And in fact, the very thing that makes government inefficient in the first place might make cutting it a bad idea!

Why is government inefficient? Because of incentives. Companies generally make hiring and investment decisions based on a marginal cost/marginal benefit calculation (though corporate institutions can of course get in the way of that, and if there are externalities then it’s not efficient, etc. etc.). But government makes its decisions based on some other kind of cost-benefit calculation entirely. Sadly, we don’t have a good understanding of government decision-making, and this is an area that could use a LOT more research attention than it is getting.

Anyway, because government doesn’t make decisions on a monetary cost/benefit margin, it tends to be inefficient. But because of that, if you take a hacksaw to government, starving it of funds, or demanding that it fire workers and close divisions, these firing and closing decisions will not be made on a cost/benefit margin. If you force a corporation to downsize, it will usually lay off the least productive workers first. But if you force a government to downsize, it very well might lay off the most productive workers while retaining the least productive ones!

The very thing that makes government inefficient can make cutting government inefficient!….

‘Skin in the Tax Game:’ Invisible Taxpayers? Invisible Citizens?

Source: Mildred Wigfall Robinson, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper 2014-29, April 1, 2014

From the abstract:
Skin in the game” – some thing that the interested party has at risk – has become a part of everyday American political discourse. Personal financial risk – some personal stake — is demanded of all “players.” The implications are clear: no skin, no play. The requirement for “skin in the game” in the context of ongoing fiscal debate along with the “concern” that in 2011 almost fifty percent of Americans paid no federal income tax is the latest version of the ongoing “cut-taxes/reduce governmental size” wrangling. It is also another play on the high political salience of the federal income tax as an institution.

Focus solely on the federal income tax, however, inappropriately skews the debate. As an editorial in the New York Times indicated, for many of these non-(federal) taxpayers, the absence of liability resulted from deliberate tax policy implemented during the Reagan administration. Of equal importance and as also noted in that editorial, the federal income tax is not the only source of governmental tax liability. Exemption of liability for federal income tax purposes does not carry with it similar exemption from other levies either on the federal level or on the state and local levels. As noted in the editorial, “[e]ven if [Americans] earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes, gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes.”

Because the American system of governance is federalist, government on each level must identify sources of revenue adequate to defray services provided and – with the exception of the federal government — must do so within the confines of a balanced budget. In this essay, I examine the federal levies to which these taxpayers remain subject in combination with state and local taxes thus establishing that less affluent Americans have “skin in the tax game.” I also comment on the inherently regressive nature of these taxes as well as the effect of income and wealth disparity on likely comparative tax burdens. I conclude by identifying several ways in which sole focus on federal tax burden inappropriately skews debate, potentially distorts policy, and limits opportunity for citizen input across all levels of government.

What 19th-Century Populists Can Teach Americans about the Roots of Partisan Dysfunction

Source: J.S. Maloy, Scholars Strategy Network, SSN Basic Facts, April 2014

Citizen disgust with partisan trench warfare has soared in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, more Americans now identify as independents than as either Democrats or Republicans. Yet the electoral prospects of independent candidates and the policy prospects of reforms favored by independents remain low. Why?

The United States has seen this movie before. The People’s Party was founded in 1891 by disgruntled Democrats and Republicans who wanted to do something about partisan dysfunction. Unlike the better-known progressive reformers that gained visibility later, the Populists regarded partisan polarization and gridlock not as a defect of character or a rash of incivility but as grounded in more serious maladies – plutocracy, culture war, and electoral duopoly…

Immigration’s Impact on Republican Political Prospects, 1980 to 2012

Source: James G. Gimpel, Center for Immigration Studies, April 2014

From the summary:
This Backgrounder examines the partisan political implications of large-scale immigration. A comparison of voting patterns in presidential elections across counties over the last three decades shows that mass immigration has caused a steady drop in presidential Republican vote shares, particularly in the nation’s largest counties. Each one percentage-point increase in the immigrant share of a large county’s population reduces the Republican share of the two-party vote by nearly 0.6 percentage points on average.

Three key conclusions emerge from this analysis:
– First, the enormous flow of legal immigrants in to the country — 29.5 million 1980 to 2012 — has remade and continues to remake the nation’s electorate in favor of the Democratic Party.
– Second, the partisan impact of immigration is relatively uniform throughout the country— from California to Texas to Florida — even though local Republican parties have taken different positions on illegal immigration. The decline does not seem to vary with the local Republican Party’s position on illegal immigration.
– Third, if legal immigration levels remain at the current levels of over one million a year, it will likely continue to undermine Republicans’ political prospects moving forward. Further, if the substantial increases in legal immigration in Senate’s Gang of Eight bill (S.744) were to become law it would accelerate this process. Conversely, lowering the level of legal immigration in the future would help stem the decline in the Republican vote….

Jim Crow 2.0? Why States Consider and Adopt Restrictive Voter Access Policies

Source: Keith G. Bentele and Erin E. O’Brien, Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 11 no. 4, December 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in state legislation likely to reduce access for some voters, including photo identification and proof of citizenship requirements, registration restrictions, absentee ballot voting restrictions, and reductions in early voting. Political operatives often ascribe malicious motives when their opponents either endorse or oppose such legislation. In an effort to bring empirical clarity and epistemological standards to what has been a deeply-charged, partisan, and frequently anecdotal debate, we use multiple specialized regression approaches to examine factors associated with both the proposal and adoption of restrictive voter access legislation from 2006–2011. Our results indicate that proposal and passage are highly partisan, strategic, and racialized affairs. These findings are consistent with a scenario in which the targeted demobilization of minority voters and African Americans is a central driver of recent legislative developments. We discuss the implications of these results for current partisan and legal debates regarding voter restrictions and our understanding of the conditions incentivizing modern suppression efforts. Further, we situate these policies within developments in social welfare and criminal justice policy that collectively reduce electoral access among the socially marginalized.

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

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…