Guide to Interest Groups and Lobbying in the United States


Edited by: Burdett A. Loomis, Peter L. Francia & Dara Z. Strolovitch

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    About the Editors

    Burdett A. Loomis is professor of political science at the University of Kansas. A former American Political Science Association congressional fellow and recipient of a Kemper Teaching Award, he has written extensively on legislatures, political careers, interest groups, and policymaking. In 2005, he worked as director of administrative communication for Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. He is the author or editor of more than 30 books in various editions, including eight editions of Interest Group Politics.

    Peter L. Francia is associate professor of political science at East Carolina University. He has written extensively on labor unions, campaign finance, and American elections, and is the author of The Future of Organized Labor in American Politics, and is co-author of The Financiers of Congressional Elections: Investors, Ideologues, and Intimates, and Conventional Wisdom and American Elections: Exploding Myths, Exploring Misconceptions (1st and 2nd eds.). His work has appeared in American Politics Research, Political Research Quarterly, Public Opinion Quarterly, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and Social Science Quarterly.

    Dara Z. Strolovitch is associate professor of political Science at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of the award-winning book Affirmative Advocacy: Race, Class, and Gender in Interest Group Politics. Her work has appeared in journals including the Journal of Politics, the American Journal of Sociology, the National Women's Studies Association Journal, Social Science Quarterly, and the Du Bois Review. She has held fellowships at the Brookings Institution and, Georgetown University, and has received grants from sources including the National Science Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


    • Scott H. Ainsworth
    • Former White House Aid
    • Gary Andres
    • American University and Dutko Worldwide
    • Robert G. Boatright
    • Clark University
    • Christopher Bosso
    • Northeastern University
    • Katharine W.V. Bradley
    • University of Michigan
    • Allan Cigler
    • University of Kansas
    • Beverly A. Cigler
    • Penn State-Harrisburg
    • Austin C. Clemens
    • University of Georgia
    • Elisabeth S. Clemens
    • University of Chicago
    • Anne N. Costain
    • University of Colorado at Boulder
    • M. David Forrest
    • University of Minnesota
    • Peter L. Francia
    • East Carolina University
    • Michael M. Franz
    • Bowdoin College
    • Elliott Fullmer
    • Georgetown University
    • R. Kenneth Godwin
    • University of North Carolina Charlotte
    • Matt Grossmann
    • Michigan State University
    • James L. Guth
    • Furman University
    • Richard L. Hall
    • University of Michigan
    • Eric S. Heberlig
    • University of North Carolina Charlotte
    • Paul S. Herrnson
    • University of Maryland
    • Ronald J Hrebenar
    • University of Utah
    • Dennis W. Johnson
    • The George Washington University
    • Paul E. Johnson
    • University of Kansas
    • Arnd Jurgensen
    • University of Toronto
    • Rogan Kersh
    • New York University
    • Beth L. Leech
    • Rutgers University
    • Suzanne Leland
    • University of North Carolina Charlotte
    • Renan Levine
    • University of Toronto
    • Burdett A. Loomis
    • University of Kansas
    • Benjamin Marquez
    • University of Wisconsin-Madison
    • Conor McGrath
    • Independent Scholar
    • Anthony J. Nownes
    • University of Tennessee
    • Karen O'Connor
    • American University
    • Susan Orr
    • The College at Brockport, SUNY
    • Mark A. Peterson
    • University of California, Los Angeles
    • Carmine Scavo
    • East Carolina University
    • Kay Lehman Schlozman
    • Boston College
    • Adam Sheingate
    • Johns Hopkins University
    • Richard Skinner
    • Rollins College
    • Jeremy Strickler
    • University of Oregon
    • Dara Z. Strolovitch
    • University of Minnesota
    • Clive S. Thomas
    • Foley Institute of Politics and Public Service Washington State University
    • Daniel J. Tichenor
    • University of Oregon
    • Clyde Wilcox
    • Georgetown University
    • Christopher Witko
    • Saint Louis University
    • Alixandra B. Yanus
    • High Point University
    • Heather E. Yates
    • University of Kansas


    A little more than four years ago, Doug Goldenberg-Hart of CQ Press's reference division e-mailed me with a request to consider editing a guide to interest groups and lobbying. Such a project was not at the top of my “to-do” list. Still, it was intriguing, and I have had the experience of editing several collections in the past. The chance to help delineate a major subfield of American politics represented both a challenge and an opportunity. Doug and I arrived at a broad conception of what the guide would look like, and by early 2008 a contract had been signed, largely because I had convinced two great young scholars—Peter Francia and Dara Strolovitch—to join me as associate editors. Going through the e-mail record of the past three years reveals how the Guide to Interest Groups and Lobbying in the United States developed, with the recruitment of a wonderful group of authors, the decisions on how to structure the book, and our introduction to CQ's Andrew Boney, whose editorial and organizational skills would keep us on course and—more or less—on schedule. As luck would have it, the 2010 American Political Science Association conference was held in Washington, so I could meet Andrew in person—and could put a face (a young one) to the authoritative voice of his e-mails.

    Getting almost fifty authors to write thirty-seven articles is no mean feat, but this group of busy, productive scholars has performed admirably, producing first-rate articles as they worked, individually and collectively, to define the broad field of interest groups and lobbying. Along the way, I learned a lot, whether on the nuances of pluralism or the mind-numbing development of campaign finance laws and practices. Two related incentives to put this book together were that although the field that encompasses interest groups and lobbying has always played an important part of the study of American politics, it has never been clear (1) what the field includes and (2) how central it is to understanding our political life. This volume includes more than it excludes, although the organization is by necessity a bit arbitrary. Still, as the many cross references will attest, the guide does address groups and lobbying with breadth and reasonable, though limited, depth.

    In the end, the chapters do—as intended—offer scholars, students, and interested laypersons a good place to start in understanding the ins and outs of groups and lobbying. From eighteenth-century predecessors to modern groups to contemporary lobbying on the Internet, those who use this guide can gain a sophisticated, yet accessible, introduction to the subject at hand. Beyond Andrew's diligent work, much of the credit for the volume's quality goes to Peter and Dara, who solicited more than half the articles and shepherded them through the writing, editing, and production stages. I'm greatly in their debt for making my editorial job much simpler, and more enjoyable, than it might have been. In addition, they both wrote first-rate articles on important subjects.

    Aside from Doug, Andrew, Dara, and Peter, the other essential figures in producing an excellent volume have been copyeditor Carolyn Goldinger and Elizabeth Kline, who has been in charge of production. Under great time pressure, both have done great jobs and contributed greatly to the Guide's overall quality.

    As this four-year process comes to a close, I can honestly say that it's been personally enjoyable and, I hope, broadly useful to those who seek to understand the politics of interest groups and lobbying. As always, I thank my wife Michel, who puts up with my mutterings and mood swings, knowing that completing a project like this ultimately gives me great pleasure and a real sense of accomplishment.

               Burdett A. Loomis

               Lawrence, Kansas

    Interest Groups and Lobbying in American Politics: The Lay of the Land

    Burdett A. Loomis

    In James Madison's drafting of the Constitution and the ratification of the First Amendment, the rights of interests to organize and petition the government were recognized and protected. This is important. As the framers sought to strengthen the national government, they simultaneously provided numerous access points for interests to make their case. To be sure, as Madison noted, factions were potentially dangerous, but they were also inevitable and in many ways energizing. Even before the Constitution's ratification, interests found ways to put forward their preferences. And the ratification itself was played out, colony by colony, as a battle among interests, culminating in New York's vigorous debate, framed by the propaganda cum political theory of the Federalist broadsides.

    Over the past century the political science discipline has sought to account for the actions of organized interests in American politics. For some scholars, such as Arthur Bentley and David Truman, interests have stood center stage in the United States; for them, addressing the interplay of interests offered scholars and citizens a comprehensive, integrated understanding of our politics.1 In the 1950s Truman and various pluralist scholars held sway, but in the wake of numerous formal, economic, and sociological studies, the emphasis on interests or groups as foundational concepts has waned. In part this diminution came as a result of E. E. Schattschneider's brief but persuasive rebuttal to pluralist conclusions in his still-valuable The Semisovereign People.1 Schattschneider argued persuasively that business interests possessed a structural advantage in American politics, at least to the extent that groups dictated the action.

    Still, organized interests of all kinds remain significant forces in American politics, in any number of ways. Lobbying has become more and more extensive, and increasing numbers of groups and other interests address an ever-expanding array of government policies. Likewise, organized interests have engaged ever more energetically in electoral politics, both contributing to candidates and spending money independently on their behalf. Indeed, as Jonathan Rauch, Robert Salisbury, Theodore Lowi, and others have thoroughly chronicled, organized interests of every stripe find it profitable, even essential, to lobby on their own particular concerns that are folded into thousands of federal and state programs.1 In the end, the chances for meaningful policy change and effective governance diminish over time as the crush of interests limit the possibilities for coherent action.

    The Guide to Interest Groups and Lobbying provides a series of foundational chapters for those among others—scholars, students, activists, and government officials—who wish to gain a fuller understanding of organized interests and their behavior. Each chapter offers a starting point for understanding a given aspect of groups and lobbying. The chapters take note of the interrelationships among the various subjects, with dozens of cross-references. For example, to address groups and elections, one must also be informed on the regulation of campaign spending by groups. And, as any organization of the subjects covered here will be arbitrary, the extensive use of cross-references allows for subject matter, not just the table of contents, to facilitate the reader's understanding.

    More generally, several themes beyond those identified in the table of contents run through this volume. The lasting importance of economist Mancur Olson's 1965 The Logic of Collective Action can scarcely be overestimated in its influence on a host of topics included here. Addressing the maintenance, and implicitly the foundation, of groups in a rigorous assessment of membership incentives gave scholars an effective way to compare groups and examine the behaviors of individuals and firms as prospective members. Olson's insights became part of the conversation about membership, lobbying, coalition building, group patrons, and dozens of other subjects.

    If Olson provides the touchstone of modern group scholarship, Madison offers a perspective in the Federalist Papers that has influenced group scholarship since the ratification of the Constitution. Again, writer after writer reflects on Madison's views on factions. Madison did not anticipate political parties, but his approach to interests was prescient. As a practical politician and propagandist, as well as a student of political theory, he understood the fundamental notion of interest and how it would drive politics in the new nation. So, whether they are discussing nineteenth-century interest groups, campaign finance, the constitutional basis for lobbying, or broad questions of representation (among others), contemporary political scientists still find that Madison's insights on the inevitability of factions, and their “mischiefs,” shape how they think about organized interests.

    A third theme found in many chapters is the question of how much influence organized interests exercise in affecting public policies. Although this question is not the immediate issue in any chapter, many authors do address the influence question because it lies at the heart of much of the attention that scholars, journalists, and citizens give to interests and lobbying. Moreover, in terms of trustworthiness, citizens rate lobbyists last among a range of occupations. The lobbyist stereotype, lately represented by convicted influence-peddler Jack Abramoff, emphasizes the story line of unethical, if not illegal, trades of favors for votes or favorable legislative actions.1 From the perspective of almost all scholars who study interest groups, this alleged influence is difficult to pin down. To be sure, more than $3 billion is spent on lobbying each year, along with substantial campaign sums in every election cycle, and interests generally believe that their spending makes a difference. In individual cases, the impact of spending by interest groups can be substantial, but more systematic examinations find only the most modest effects.1

    Coupled with these conclusions is a broad emphasis on the importance of information in lobbying. From the earliest days of informal lobbying in colonial America, providing high quality information has proven a core job for lobbyists. The emphasis on information relates directly to lobbying targets; scholars have found that lobbyists and interests focus their attention on friends in Congress, rather than trying to convert opponents. Even undecided legislators get no more attention than do one's friends. In a pair of influential articles, Richard Hall and colleagues found that groups—with campaign contributions and information—can elicit more activity from legislators.1 In addition, groups subsidize legislators with cost-free information, which can subsequently be used to craft arguments on behalf of policies as well as district-oriented explanations of their votes.

    In the end, organized interests and lobbyists have been part and parcel of American politics from before the founding of the Republic. Over time, groups have grown far more formalized and diverse, and lobbying has become increasingly professionalized. Still, the core issues of providing information to decision makers and finding ways to organize effectively have driven organized interests for more than two centuries. What follows is a brief introduction to the substance of this volume with its thirty-six original chapters covering the spectrum of interest group politics and lobbying.

    Interest Group Politics Before the 1950S

    The growth of pluralist analyses of American politics (Chapter 6 by Dara Strolovitch and M. David Forrest) and the publication of Truman's The Governmental Process in 1951 focused many scholars’ attention on organized interests, but they had long played important roles in representation, lobbying, and campaign finance (see Chapter 31 by Michael Franz for the latter). Indeed, Alexis de Tocqueville's celebration of American voluntary associations is a touchstone for almost all students of organized interests. Beyond this, however, Dan Tichenor and Jeremy Strickler (Chapter 2) argue that it was the growth of government itself, especially during and after the Civil War, that helped fuel a great increase in lobbying.

    The growth of organized interests in the 1800s was built upon the firm foundation of two eighteenth-century developments. As Burdett Loomis concludes in Chapter 1, by the time of the Revolutionary War, the practice of lobbying—whether targeting the Crown, colonial governors, or colonial assemblies—was well developed, and the framers were familiar with group-based lobbying (merchants, religious groups) as they drew up the Constitution. Most important, the First Amendment established lobbying as a constitutionally protected activity (speech, petition, assembly).

    By the end of the nineteenth century, voluntary groups had grown in numbers, and lobbyists had become fixtures in Washington and many state capitals. In Chapter 3 Elisabeth Clemens notes an “explosion of associational activity” in the 1800s, which reflects another trend across eras: the substantial growth of groups, regardless of the time period. Per Mancur Olson's analysis, many groups were not established for political purposes, but large memberships nevertheless made them potentially powerful political forces. Indeed, one hallmark of organized interests in the nineteenth century comes in the internal debates over how much political activity is advisable. In the pre–New Deal era, groups experimented with various associational forms and pathways to influence government and politics. Broad interests came to be represented by associations with particular goals, put forward by lobbyists and politically savvy chief executives.

    With the growth of government in the New Deal and World War II years, American politics changed dramatically. Although the conventional wisdom is that groups form to seek favors from government, the causal arrow from the 1930s runs largely in the opposite direction. The government takes on a task such as nuclear power, interstate highways, Social Security, or securities regulation, and interests organize to affect subsequent policies and expenditures. By the 1950s this pattern had begun to occur regularly, and the Great Society policies of the 1960s spurred further growth.

    Beyond Pluralism: Theoretical Approaches to Interest Groups and Lobbying

    In many ways, the history of the study of organized interests has two phases: before and after Mancur Olson published The Logic of Collective Action in 1965. As an economist, Olson asked a central, but ignored question: How do large membership groups sustain themselves, given that they seek collective benefits that are often available to everyone? Individuals—whether seniors (AARP), teachers (National Education Association), farmers (Farm Bureau)—should be content to be “free riders” who obtain the benefits of group actions without the costs of membership. Olson's approach constituted a serious challenge to pluralists like David Truman, who assumed that group formation was a natural phenomenon.

    Over time, as Paul Johnson notes in Chapter 4, Olson's challenge to interest group scholars was addressed by cumulative research that demonstrated how the free-rider problem could be overcome. Indeed, groups did form, and often for explicitly political purposes. But Olson made scholars ask fundamental questions about group viability and representation. Even when groups do form and persist, Strolovitch argues, subgroups (poor women, people of color) may be underrepresented in various ways.1 Moreover, as Strolovitch and Forrest detail in Chapter 6, societal interests are often expressed through social movements, which overlap, both in practice and in scholarly works, with organized interests.

    The overall mosaic of interests, however represented, continues to receive attention under the umbrella of pluralism as a theoretic framework. In Chapter 5 Matt Grossman offers an extensive review of pluralist theory's evolution, as well as arguments as to when pluralism or neopluralism can be best applied. Still, political scientists continue to shy away from making overarching claims for group-based theories, which have not proven highly useful in promoting broad understanding of societal politics. In some ways, a more promising general approach to organized groups and lobbying has come in the application of economic analysis. Scott Ainsworth and Austin Clemens (Chapter 7) begin with Olson and offer a summary of the strands of economic analysis that have developed in his wake. Focusing largely on individual actors, they demonstrate the possibilities for generalization across groups, although this kind of analysis is subject to its own limitations.

    In the end, interests have proven resistant to generalization; and the promise of pluralism as a framework has long faded, although not entirely. Organized interests are remain salient to almost all politics in the United States, yet they rarely stand at the center of broad explanations of political behavior or policy outcomes.

    Groups and the Government (Parties, Too)

    The conventional wisdom regarding interest groups is that they organize at least in part to seek favorable policies, and this is frequently true, to be sure. But government itself often leads groups to form and establish relationships with legislators and administrators. Indeed, the growth of government from the 1930s to the present has led to great increases in the number and variety of organized interests. Although groups have traditionally interacted most with Congress and state legislatures, they also have become intertwined with the other most prominent national institutions—the executive, the courts, and political parties.

    Beth Leech (Chapter 8) sets the stage here with a broad discussion of the growing web of relationships between and among organized interests and various government institutions, which has been assisted by the increase in good data on campaign finance and lobbying from the 1970s and 1990s, respectively. Leech argues that focusing too much on groups and their policy preferences diverts attention from the role that government plays in generating new groups and therefore more lobbying. In his work, Jonathan Rauch has argued that the increasing entanglement of large numbers of groups with many government agencies, as well as the easily approachable Congress, leads to “demosclerosis,” or the inability of the government to respond effectively to new or chronic societal problems.1

    Although scholars have focused largely on how interests lobby Congress, groups have long used the venues of the court system and the executive branch to achieve their goals. Indeed, one consistent tactic since the 1700s has been for interests to shop for the best possible venue to make their case. In the 1940s and 1950s the NAACP sought redress of its grievances in the federal courts, knowing that the southern-dominated U.S. Congress, especially the Senate, would not welcome its arguments. In their systematic survey of interest group-court politics, Karen O'Connor and Alixandra Yanus (Chapter 9) observe that organized interests consistently approach the courts to influence policy and to maintain their organizations. Even in defeat, groups can benefit from aggressively litigating an issue or seeking the rejection or confirmation of a judicial nominee.

    Lobbying the executive branch, from the president to the smallest agency, has grown steadily since the 1930s, although the evidence is less comprehensive than it might be. Still, the complex relationships between the executive and organized interests are often as important as congressional linkages. In fact, Congress has consistently delegated tremendous amounts of decision-making authority to the executive branch, as in the 2010 passage of health care reforms. Moreover, as Mark Peterson (Chapter 10) observes, not only do groups seek favored policies from the executive, but also they are often on the receiving end of executive lobbying. In the politics of health care in 2010, the drug lobby, known as PhRMA, cut a deal with President Barack Obama relatively early in the process, promising to support reform in return for a clear limit on their costs going forward.1 Overall, as the federal government has grown, more and more lobbying initiatives focus on the executive, and often the passage of a law by Congress represents not the end point, but the start of lobbying over outcomes.

    In addition to the formal institutions of government, there are the political parties. The parties are major national institutions that shape the activities of groups and lobbyists. Since the 1980s by almost all indicators, American politics has become more partisan. In the 1950s and 1960s Congress was run by Democrats, but many of them were conservative, and a fair number of Republicans were moderate or even liberal. Groups and lobbyists felt little need (with some exceptions, such as Democratic-leaning unions) to identify with one party or the other. Indeed, such a practice would likely have reduced their effectiveness. By the late 1990s Republicans, who had won control of Congress, sought to make party ties a factor in which lobbyists and groups could succeed. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's K Street Project, in concert with leading conservative lobbyists, worked hard to ensure that lobbyists would contribute generously to GOP coffers, and party leaders attempted to sway hiring decisions to favor Republican loyalists. In the end, these tactics were not especially successful, largely because most interests have goals distinct from parties.1

    In Chapter 11 Paul Herrnson examines the overlapping yet different politics of parties and organized interests. Groups and parties are both representative institutions, but they approach this linkage in distinct ways. Parties aggregate broad interests before an election, seeking to control the official levers of power; organized interests reflect the preferences, desires, and demands of smaller groupings. Even as parties have grown stronger in the post-1980 era, interests have tended to splinter. As Herrnson notes, “The proliferation of narrow groups has often come at the expense of larger ones; in the 2009–2010 debate over health care, dozens of specific interests, such as teaching hospitals and nurse practitioners, weighed in on the legislation, a development that reduced the impact of the American Medical Association, which has lost its dominance in representing the medical community over the past fifty years.” In the end, strong parties sometimes can push legislation through, but both before and after passage, groups and their lobbyists help shape, and often blunt, the ultimate outcomes.

    The institutional structure of American politics does shape the nature of interest group actions in common ways, but there is also tremendous variation among broad categories of interests. This means that organized interests often adjust differently to particular policies, or seek out the most friendly venues when faced with a policy challenge. In short, generalizations across groups and types of groups are often difficult to make.

    Organized Interests and Lobbying: Sector by Sector

    Although any listing here is by definition arbitrary, there is a long tradition of examining groups by particular categories. Indeed, much general theorizing has come from the close, long-term examination of agricultural groups, as Adam Sheingate details in Chapter 12. The agricultural sector has changed gradually over time, with more specialty groups forming, thus diminishing the influence of the broad-based American Farm Bureau Federation. In other fields, such as homeland security and defense (Carmine Scavo, Chapter 14) or the environment (Chris Bosso, Chapter 22), changes have come much more quickly, either in response to an individual event (9/11) or a strong social movement (environmentalism in the 1960s). In both instances, a major government unit—the Department of Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency—was formed and subsequently served as a focal point for much group activity. In general, the time lines for different groups vary greatly across sectors. Agricultural interests formed in the late nineteenth century; think tanks and civil rights organizations have a more recent vintage. Still other sectors, such as professional groups or business, have witnessed relatively steady growth over time. In short, the overall growth of organized interests may not be reflected in any single sector, nor should we expect it to be.

    Even if scholars generally find pluralism as an inadequate overall framework for understanding American politics, the number and variety of interest groups remain remarkable. Moreover, the forms taken by these organized interests are likewise varied, ranging from professional associations (see Chris Witko, Chapter 20) to the panoply of government lobbies (see Beverly Cigler, Chapter 23; and Ken Godwin, Chapter 21, on education) to a wide range of foreign lobbies (see Arnd Jurgensen and Renan Levine, Chapter 24). Indeed, the institutionalization of organized interests and the representation of institutions (corporations, think tanks, state and local governments, among many others) contribute to Rauch's “demosclerosis.” 1

    Virtually all sectors of society enjoy substantial and well-connected representation, to the point that enacting broad policy change becomes more and more difficult. Susan Orr and Peter Francia (Chapter 13), in their overview of business and labor, see not only the battle lines between these sectors, but also tremendous diversity within the business community. On major issues, such as health care, business groups have rarely presented an organized front, and this proved especially true in the 2009–2010 struggle for reform; large and small businesses took different tacks, as did large insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry, former allies in their opposition to President Bill Clinton's 1993 reform efforts.

    The economics-based approach to organized interests, at least in Mancur Olson's early formulation, never would have predicted the growth and survival of groups that serve large populations often considered difficult to organize. These include civil rights organizations (Benjamin Marquez, Chapter 15), religious groups (James Guth, Chapter 17), and gender-based groups (Anne Costain, Chapter 18). Of special importance is the ability of these organizations to frame policy debates from perspectives that historically have been understated in American politics. At the same time, such well-represented points of view make policymaking more contentious and protracted than in the past. These circumstances are reinforced by the growth of think tanks, advocacy groups, and nonprofits, many of which have no membership base, but survive through the generosity of patrons and contributors.

    The proliferation of these entities, well documented by Richard Skinner (Chapter 16) and Kay Schlozman (Chapter 19), offer further evidence as to the extensive reach of interest group politics. In addition, although many of these organizations provide information to decision makers, relatively few do original research. Rather, whether think tanks, nonprofits, or advocacy groups, their information is broadly “interested”—that is, presented from a point of view in order to move the debate in a particular direction. In many ways, these institutions reflect the twenty-first-century progeny of Schattschneider's 1960 observations as to expanding the scope of conflict and changing the mobilization of bias within the society at large.1

    All in all, the expansion and diversity of groups means that they have to work hard to get their message across, whether to legislators, other policymakers, groups of citizens, or the public at large. This in turn means more lobbying, in more forms.


    Lobbying in America is filled with contradictions. The American people have almost no respect for lobbyists, rating them at the bottom of any grouping of occupations. Yet policymakers not only put up with lobbyists, but also often rely on their knowledge and information. Journalists and pundits frequently focus on the high costs of elections, but lobbying expenses at least double all costs of electioneering. President Obama has spoken out against the power of lobbyists and sought to exclude them from his administration, but was forced to make numerous exceptions to this rule in hiring capable executive branch officials.

    Although many studies and think tanks, such as the Center for Responsive Politics, focus on money when they analyze lobbying, the more powerful coin of the realm for lobbyists is information. Various political scientists have made this point. As noted previously, Richard Hall, writing with several co-authors, has made the most powerful case, as he has developed the idea that lobbyists provide an informational subsidy to legislators.1 In Chapter 25 he and Katherine Bradley offer an overview of legislative lobbying. Members of Congress remain the focus of Washington lobbying, even though, ironically, they possess more staff resources than any set of lawmakers in the world.

    Not only are lobbyists generally disrespected, their work is largely misunderstood. In three complementary chapters (26, 27, 28), Rogan Kersh, Gary Andres, and Dennis Johnson provide a rich view of lobbyists and what they do. Kersh offers detailed portraits of who lobbyists are and what they do in a world where we both distrust lobbyists in general and support the specific interests that rely heavily on them. Andres, with experience in the White House, on Capitol Hill, as the director of a major lobbying firm (Dutko), and possessing strong academic credentials, is in a unique position to address lobbyists’ tactics. Andres places lobbying in the context of the exchange of information between government officials and lobbyists, and emphasizes the different ways in which all the participants in the process use information and mutually benefit from the exchange.

    Dennis Johnson explores lobbying techniques that both complement and move beyond the largely insider tactics addressed by Kersh and Andres. Grassroots lobbying, while a popular and important tactic, does not even qualify as lobbying in terms of official reporting. Groups that seek to mobilize constituents and voters may not need to register, and their expenditures largely go unreported. Even less understood is the use of social media and other Internet lobbying—techniques that have become the fastest growing and most changeable in the entire field of lobbying. Johnson does yeoman service in providing a timely assessment of a developing subfield. Indeed, the very fact of its rapid changes means that regulating lobbying, even when intentions are good, is a difficult task. Who is a lobbyist? What constitutes lobbying? To what extent is it constitutionally protected, especially by the First Amendment? Ron Hrebenar and Clive Thomas (Chapter 29) take on this subject and offer an overview of the policies and challenges presented here.

    Interests and Elections

    As Allan Cigler and Heather Yates note (Chapter 30) organized interests have long sought to influence elections, as a direct link to winning policy victories. Prior to 1972, despite the best efforts of some pioneering scholars, there is simply not much authoritative or systematic information about campaign finance. Other electoral efforts, such as mobilizing votes by unions and other groups, were more obvious, but increasingly campaign finance has become the name of the game. Since the Federal Election Campaign Act (1971), soon followed by post–Watergate updates, parties and candidates, along with some groups, have been required to report campaign contributions. From the mid-1970s on, political scientists have enjoyed the luxury of having reasonably good data for empirical analysis. These data, produced largely by the Federal Election Commission, proved a boon to empirical studies of contribution patterns and campaign spending. The data gave birth to institutions such as the Center for Responsive Politics and the Campaign Finance Institute, which have provided both analysis and enhanced access to the FEC information. In many ways, this pattern has been repeated in the post-1995 lobbyist reporting requirements, which have opened up new possibilities for analysis. In Chapter 31 Michael Franz details the complex and changeable rules on campaign limits and disclosure, as they apply to groups. In the end, interests can usually find ways to invest in candidates and parties in almost any form that they desire, despite consistently greater efforts at maintaining limits and transparency.

    The costs of congressional and presidential electioneering have grown steadily since the 1970s. Clyde Wilcox and Elliott Fullmer chart these trends in Chapter 32. The lengthy presidential primary process and the biennial congressional elections—especially when the control of Congress is at stake—provide endless opportunities for groups to affect electoral outcomes. But as costs rise, it has become more difficult for any given interest to make a substantial impact, with some notable exceptions. Still, given the fierce partisan battles for control of the White House and Congress, the perceived stakes for interests have risen steadily since the 1980s. And with rising costs and contributions have come increased attempts to regulate campaign finance and groups’ participation in electoral politics, culminating in the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). Robert Boatright (Chapter 33) addresses the legal, empirical, and normative issues that surround interests’ electioneering. He concludes that disclosure remains the most acceptable tool for addressing this issue, in light of recent Supreme Court decisions that have seriously weakened BCRA's regulatory goals.

    Beyond Washington

    Organized interests and lobbying have grown apace in states, localities, and abroad. Indeed, states’ politics often look much like smaller versions of the federal version. Lobbyists cluster around state capitols, and groups organize in myriad ways to affect state policies. Anthony Nownes (Chapter 34) provides an overview, building on a growing body of comparative state-level research that can address issues such as the nature of interest group communities. If state research is patchy, scholarship on local groups and lobbying is even less comprehensive, which is strange, given that much of the early research on pluralism derives from city-level studies such as Robert Dahl's Who Governs? In Chapter 35 Eric Heberlig and Suzanne Leland pull together the extant findings and argue that these local venues offer increasing potential for group-based analysis.

    Finally, Conor McGrath (Chapter 36) examines how American lobbying styles have been adopted and adapted in nations around the world. Although the American government structure encourages many varieties of lobbying, McGrath finds that only some American tactics are effective in other systems, most of which do not have the number of veto points and alternative venues that exist in the United States.

    Groups, Lobbying, and American Politics

    In the end, organized interests and various forms of lobbying are omnipresent in American politics. Many groups have great resources and seek systematic influence. Still, the study of interest groups and lobbying does not provide a coherent overall perspective on American politics. Groups do play a role in almost all politics, but they are rarely central, at least in terms of providing full-blown explanations for political behavior and policy outcomes. Groups and lobbyists are always in the mix and are continuing elements of representation at all levels of political life. This volume demonstrates the richness of group politics at a time when all interests seek to have their voices heard. This makes both for vibrant politics and frequent gridlock, a mixed blessing that continues to define our political system.


    Arthur Bentley, The Process of Government: A Study of Social Pressures (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1908); David B. Truman, The Governmental Process: Political Interests and Public Opinion (New York: Knopf, 1951).

    E. E. Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People: A Realists View of Democracy in America (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1960).

    Jonathan Rauch, Demosclerosis: The Silent Killer of American Democracy (New York: Times Books, 1994); Theodore Lowi, The End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States (New York: W. W. Norton, 1979); Robert Salisbury, “The Paradox of Interest Groups in Washington—More Groups, Less Clout,” in The New American Political System, 2nd ed., ed. Anthony King (Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1993).

    See, for example, Peter Stone, Heist: Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2006). In addition, Abramoff became the fodder for a commercial film, Casino Jack.

    See Robert Kaiser, So Damn Much Money (New York: Knopf, 2009). Also, see Raquel Alexander, Susan Scholz, and Stephen Mazza, “Lobbying ROI: An Empirical Analysis under the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004,” Journal of Law and Politics 25 (2010).

    Richard L. Hall and Alan V. Deardorff, “Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy,” American Political Science Review 100, 1 (2006): 69–84; Richard L. Hall and Frank W. Wayman, “Buying Time: Moneyed Interests and the Mobilization of Bias in Congressional Committees,” American Political Science Review 84, 3 (September 1990): 797–820.

    Dara Z. Strolovitch, Affirmative Advocacy: Race, Class, and Gender in Interest Group Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

    Rauch, Demosclerosis.

    Lawrence Jacobs and Theda Skocpol, Health Care Reform and American Politics (New York: Oxford Press, 2010), 71.

    Burdett Loomis, “Does K Street Run through Capitol Hill,” in Interest Group Politics, ed. Allan J. Cigler and Burdett A. Loomis (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2007).

    Rauch, Demosclerosis; Robert H. Salisbury, “Interest Representation: The Dominance of Institutions,” American Political Science Review 78, 1 (March 1984): 64–76.

    Schattchneider, The Semisovereign People.

    Hall and Deardorff, “Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy.”

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