Update: Lobbyists

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In a comment on the earlier post about political donations, Eric Crampton points to an interesting article about political lobbyists: “Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy” (2006) American Political Science Review 69 by Professors Hall and Deardorff.

The standard way of thinking about political lobbyists is that they attempt to sway wavering politicians on key votes (i.e., they are trying to change legislators’ preferences).  Hall and Deardorff acknowledge that this model is quite a good explanation of how lobbyists behave in the following situation:

“(i) The legislator is perceived to have a weak preference … (ii) a specific matter is likely to be decided by a public vote; and (iii) the outcome of that vote is thought to be in doubt.”

However, Hall and Deardorff think that this doesn’t explain a great deal of legislator-lobbyist interaction.  Why do legislators give access to think tanks, for example, that don’t have a large membership base and don’t make large monetary contributions?  They can’t offer the legislator much in the way of votes or money.  And why do lobbyists spend time working with legislators who already have strong pre-existing commitments to their causes – shouldn’t they concentrate primarily on trying to sway legislators who think differently?  Yet some studies show that lobbyists spend most of their time with “those whose views they least needed to change—–their already strong supporters.”

Hall and Deardorff suggest an alternative account, which is pretty interesting:

“The main idea is that lobbying is primarily a form of legislative subsidy—–a matching grant of costly policy information, political intelligence, and labor to the enterprises of strategically selected legislators. The proximate objective of this strategy is not to change legislators’ minds but to assist natural allies in achieving their own, coincident objectives.”

In other words, Hall and Deardorff argue that lobbyists give their expertise to political allies to improve their allies’ legislative resources.  Their model is based on five assumptions:

For a legislator to have much influence on policy, she must work at it. […]

Legislators’ resources are scarce. […]

For any given period, individual legislators care about influencing more than one policy at a time […]

Legislators care about some issues more than others […]

Relative to legislators, lobbyists are specialists.

In their view, lobbyists increase the amount that legislators can accomplish in relation to goals on which the legislators and lobbyists already agree.

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One Response to “Update: Lobbyists”

  1. stephenwhittington Says:

    This is similar to a point that Epstein/Lessig made in that clip you sent through to me Jesse, about how the Senate was so poorly staffed that they needed think tanks for policy. He seemed to view it in a more malign way – or at least that’s what I took away.

    From personal experience, there is truth to that argument in New Zealand, although it seems to be a much smaller problem. Most parties have a relatively small research unit, typically comprised of recent inexperienced graduates. Given the speed that the media expects responses to some announcements, there is no doubt that parties tend to fall back on principle (where applicable), think tanks, or even whim.

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