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Legislation and Lobbyists

Grades 9-12 | Historical Analysis | Source-Based

Learning Standards

 

 

 

Prompt: The law-making institutions of the American government are controlled by a bicameral legislative branch composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The first step towards passing a law is the introduction of a bill to Congress. While only members of Congress can introduce legislation, anyone can write the text of the bill. Lobbyists (individuals or groups that advocate for special interests) work to influence decisions and ultimately persuade legislators to pass laws that benefit their interests.

 

Read the following sources about enacting legislation in the United States government. Then, make a claim about whether lobbyists and special interest groups advance or harm the democracy of the law-making process. Use logic and evidence from multiple sources to support your position and address opposing viewpoints.

 

 

 

Source 1

When Lobbyists Literally Write The Bill (Secondary Source)

Ailsa Chang

Heard on All Things Considered

November 11, 2013

 

 

It's taken for granted that lobbyists influence legislation. But perhaps less obvious is that they often write the actual bills — even word for word.

 

In an example a week and a half ago, the House passed a measure that would roll back a portion of the 2010 financial reforms known as Dodd-Frank. And reports from The New York Times and Mother Jones revealed that language in the final legislation was nearly identical to language suggested by lobbyists.

 

It's been a long-accepted truth in Washington that lobbyists write the actual laws, but that raises two questions: Why does it happen so much, and is it a bad thing?

 

The House bill passed on Oct. 30 essentially sought to wipe out a financial overhaul known as the "push-out rule." The rule prevents banks from using your deposits to trade in derivatives — risky securities that many believe contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

Marcus Stanley of Americans for Financial Reform says the regulation was a way to protect taxpayer money.

 

"The purpose of this part of Dodd-Frank was to basically say that Wall Street derivatives activities should be funded by private money and shouldn't get a public subsidy, and this bill kind of reversed that," Stanley says.

 

What the bill would do is exempt broad categories of trades from this rule.

 

And here's what really ticked off consumer advocates like Stanley. The New York Times and Mother Jones obtained draft language that lobbyists for Citigroup — one of the largest banks in country — offered to lawmakers. And it turns out that 70 of the 85 lines in the final House bill reflected Citigroup's recommendations. In fact, as The Times reports, two paragraphs were copied almost word for word — except lawmakers had changed two words to make them plural.

 

The House bill has slim hopes of passing the Senate.

 

 

'A Closer Look'

 

"It shouldn't be as a result of an investigative report by a newspaper that members of Congress find out that a bill put before them was actually written by one of the interests affected by it," says Democratic Rep. Daniel Kildee of Michigan.

 

Kildee says no one ever told him before he first voted for the bill as a member of the House Financial Services Committee that Citigroup had drafted so much of the language.

 

So later on the House floor, he voted against the bill.

 

"It should have been made clear to all committee members as to where this was coming from," says Kildee, "and folks may have taken a different look, or a closer look, at the language if we had known it had been written by and for a particular interest."

 

Citigroup declined to comment on its lobbying efforts, but in a May 2013 blog post it said that what it advocated was good for the whole financial system.

 

 

Privatizing Policy?

 

"To me," says Lee Drutman of the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group, "this is just another tick-tock on a story that's been developing for a long time — that Congress has basically outsourced its policy expertise to the private sector."

 

As outrageous as this story seems, Drutman says, it's now unfortunately business as usual on Capitol Hill.

 

"People on the Hill don't stay as long," he says. "You don't get as good people on the Hill. The expertise on policy making more and more has moved to the private sector, and it's moved to represent those organizations and companies who can afford to pay for it, which generally isn't you and me. It's big banks and Big Oil and big companies."

 

Drutman worked as a banking policy staffer in 2009 and 2010 handling financial overhaul issues. And what he saw around the Capitol was that congressional staff members were stretched incredibly thin.

 

Lobbyists know this, says Drutman, so what they offer lawmakers is an all-in-one package — they'll help a lawmaker round up co-sponsors for the bill, even write talking points, as well as the specific bill language.

 

"Sometimes it's two words… Sometimes you want to insert a 'not' or something," says Nick Allard, a longtime lobbyist at the firm Patton Boggs.

 

Allard says before you think lobbyists are running Washington, consider this: Word choices in a bill have to be vetted and approved by lots of eyeballs in a long lawmaking process. So it's the members of Congress who voted for the bill — not the lobbyists — who have to take ownership over the final language.

 

"So where it comes from — whether they see it on the back of a cereal box or on the Today show or on NPR or out of a lawyer who's acting as a lobbyist's word processor — doesn't matter, because if the member is proposing it, they are responsible for it and they have to make the case for why it's advisable," Allard says.

 

Several of the House bill's sponsors didn't respond to a request for comment.

 

And as for Kildee's concerns about transparency? Lobbyists aren't under disclosure requirements, so consumer advocates like Stanley say the public can't see what lobbyists have drafted for lawmakers — unless someone leaks it.

 

"It's a little different when the American Cancer Society gives you some technical assistance on a cancer funding bill versus when one of the largest banks in the world, which was just recently bailed out by the public, writes you a bill that will give it access to public deposit insurance to fund its exotic financial activities," he says.

 

And Stanley says the public has a right to know where policy expertise is coming from.

 

 

“What is Democracy?” by ushistory.org is licensed under CC 4.0 International.

 

 

 

Source 2

Gauging the Influence of Public Interest Groups (Secondary Source)

John Sides

October 31, 2011

 

 

A Monkey Cage reader and long-time affiliate of Washington public interest groups asks: Do public interest groups influence policy decisions? For an answer, I asked two political scientists who study interest groups: Dara Strolovich, the author of Affirmative Advocacy, and Matt Grossmann, the author of the forthcoming Not So Special Interests. Here is their post:

 

Categorizing groups as representing the "public interest" is tricky. Even among groups typically considered "public interest groups," a few relatively large and well-established organizations account for the bulk of opportunities for influence, such as media appearances and committee testimony. And these groups may only represent the interests of their most advantaged constituencies, ignoring the issue concerns of disadvantaged subgroups of their constituencies. "Public interest groups," in other words, represent small portions of the public.

 

The answer to the reader's question depends even more on our standard for influence. If influence means changing the votes of legislators or whether bills are signed into law, interest groups appear to have little influence. Some studies of the influence of lobbying on congressional votes have found no influence and others have found substantial influence but only on a few specific votes. In general, it is hard for groups to bring about changes in the law. Whoever favors the status quo over any change has a tremendous advantage. Political action committee (PAC) contributions show even less evidence of influence. PACs influence voting on only non-ideological issues. That said, even if they do not generally change legislators' votes, interest groups do lead legislators to pay attention to issues that they might otherwise fail to address and they can influence the content of policy by drafting model legislation or regulations.

 

If we interpret policy influence more broadly, public interest groups may be able to compete better with business interests than is commonly assumed. Business and professional associations vastly outnumber public interest groups, but the public interest community has grown at a faster rate. Public interest groups represent 26% of major interest group participants in Washington. And even though they spend much less money on lobbying than do corporate interests, such spending does not predict which side wins a lobbying debate. In fact, policy historians partially credit public interest groups with one-third of all significant domestic policy enactments since 1945.

 

What about when public interest groups face business groups in head-to-head competition?

 

  • Public interest groups are more likely than business interests to influence the issues that Congress addresses and the content of news coverage.
  • State and local laws that pass by initiative are more likely to reflect the interests of citizen groups than they are to reflect those of business organizations.
  • Business lobbies prevail in legislative battles on issues where they have public support or where they attract little media coverage and little counter-mobilization.
  • Public interest groups, however, succeed in lobbying against companies less often in the U.S. than in the European Union.
     

What about the long term? Public interest policies are often weakened by future congresses or administrative agency decisions because more specialized interest groups fight reform over extended periods. Likewise policy changes may be ineffective; the NAACP's efforts to use the courts to end segregation did not lead to more black schoolchildren attending integrated schools, in spite of the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

 

To apply this debate to a current example, think about the anti-tax pledge from Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) signed by so many first-year members of Congress. Has ATR influenced policy? First, evaluating causality is hard: most of the people who signed the pledge already opposed tax increases and most votes against taxes are driven by ideology and partisanship, rather than adherence to the pledge. Second, the pledge generally favors the status quo and that comes with quite an advantage. Nevertheless, political science suggests that ATR could influence which issues Congress addresses and the terms of the tax reform debate in the media. ATR is unlikely to singlehandedly affect final votes on any legislation, but, in tandem with many other factors, it could change how the debate over tax policy develops. Many years from now, we might conclude that the group was part of an important movement that prevented tax increases, at least for a while.

 

http://prospect.org/article/gauging-influence-public-interest-groups

 

 

 

Source 3

How Do Lobbyists Influence Bills In State Legislatures? (Secondary Source)

Brian M. Conley, Suffolk University

August 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 policy making 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.

 

 

Debates about Lobbying

 

Perhaps because it is very difficult to pin down and measure the successful exercise of influence, most contemporary scholarship on lobbying skirts the issue. "In both the United States and the European Union," explains political scientist Christine Mahoney, "scholars have focused on a whole host of lobbying-related phenomena – formation, organization, access, activity – but not influence" as such. We get information on numbers of lobbyists, rules about what they can do to contact legislators, and amounts of money expended in the process – without knowing for sure how much all of this actually achieves. This is true despite the fact that the scholarly literature revolves around two distinct theories of lobbying, exchange theories and persuasion theories, both of which make assumptions about how interactions between lobbyists and legislators influence legislative outcomes. Adherents of both perspectives tend to fall short in measuring influence.

 

  • Scholars who think of lobbying as the trading of roll-call votes for contributions from lobbyists have had difficulty showing that this actually occurs in a significant way. Empirical studies have registered mixed results, at best, and it has been easier to show that lobbyists gain access, a hearing for their policy preferences, than it has been to show that actual floor votes are delivered for contributions.
  • Scholars who conceptualize lobbying as persuasion also have trouble defining and tracking actual influence. Legislators have access to many sources of information from their staff, interest groups, constituents, the media, and other lawmakers, so it is very hard to determine whether a specific piece of information affects their thinking or voting.
     

In an attempt to make more progress on measuring the actual influence of lobbyists, my research focuses on efforts at the state level and looks at the impact of a particular form of lobbying that seeks to persuade legislators with information. Interest groups and other policy actors employ two common strategies of persuasion: sometimes, they try to persuade legislators to kill proposed bills outright; and at other times, they try to convey information about proposed legislation to persuade legislators to modify it in preferred ways. The latter strategy is what I call constructive lobbying because lobbyists, rather than push entirely for or against a bill, offer financial or informational assistance to a legislator to signal support for passage of legislation in a modified, specifically desired form.

 

Although lobbyists in practice use both strategies – attempts to kill bills and attempts to modify them – theory and evidence suggest that constructive lobbying may be an important though underappreciated part of a lobbyist's strategic arsenal. By showing a willingness to work with a bill that an interest group opposes in its current form, the lobbyist reassures legislators who might otherwise worry about the intent of the lobbyist and the veracity of the information the lobbyist is providing.

 

 

The Case of Industry Lobbying on State Legislation about Electronic Waste

 

My research looks at two otherwise similar types of lobbyists within the same industry: sub-groups of television manufacturers that have pursued competing lobbying strategies to influence the outcome of state-level efforts over the last decade to regulate the disposal of electronic waste. Although computer manufacturers mostly accept legal mandates to recycle outdated equipment, television manufacturers have been divided on the issue. "Legacy manufacturers" – companies that once manufactured television sets but no longer do – maintain that their responsibilities should be limited to their current share of the television market rather than the share of their products actually returned as waste. Non-legacy manufacturers, on the other hand, generally oppose all e-waste legislation, because their current bottom lines would be most directly affected.

 

This division within the television industry is good for my research purposes, because it offers an opportunity to measure the comparative effects of lobbying efforts trying to kill bills versus constructive lobbying to modify the terms of pending legislation. I examined lobbying efforts for all e-waste laws passed between 2004 and 2013 in the U.S. states, probing to see whether obstruction efforts or constructive lobbying influenced the outcomes of these legislative efforts.

 

My results suggest that the constructive approach to lobbying employed by legacy television manufacturers significantly increased the likelihood that their interests would be reflected in final legislation governing the disposal of televisions.

 

  • During this period, legislation requiring some type of e-waste program covering the disposal of televisions was introduced in 25 states, and it passed in twenty of those states – 80% of the cases. Efforts to kill such legislation clearly were not very successful.
  • Among the states where e-waste regulations including televisions were enacted, 65% of the laws used market-share language, as preferred by the legacy manufacturers. The constructive efforts of their lobbyists appear to have succeeded in influencing the content of enacted legislation almost two-thirds of the time.
     

With ingenuity, in short, research studies can be designed to find out modes of lobbyist impact on legislation. As my research on television manufacturers shows, progress can be made in documenting degrees of influence – and in teasing out exactly how influence works and which approaches accomplish the goals of interest groups with a stake in legislation.

 

 

“How Do Lobbyists Influence Bills In State Legislatures?” by scholarsstrategynetwork.org is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0.

 

 

 

 

Source 4

The Constitution of the United States (Primary Source)

 

 

Article I, Section 7

 

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

 

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

 

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

 

https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript

 

 

 

Rubric:

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