This is a good time for carefully researched and balanced discussions of political reform and Lee Drutman has now stepped in and done his part with an excellent book about lobbying, The Business of America is Lobbying (2015).  It is not a screed and instead looks closely at the growth and changed character of this activity within the corporate sector.  Drutman concludes with proposals for reform but only and admirably after he pares away preconceptions and identifies precisely what he believes the problem to be.

Corporate lobbying has become pervasive, Drutman claims, but he does not mean by that that it is always effective.  Huge amounts of money are spent unwisely or inefficiently and Drutman assigns some of the responsibility for the excess to the lobbyists themselves.  It is a business, after all, and those engaged in lobbying are immodest, he finds, in appraising the value of their efforts.  Their clients, relying on this appraisal, ask for more of the same, which the lobbyists are only too happy to provide.  (In fairness, lawyers should be quick to admit, lobbyists are not the only professionals convinced of their indispensability.)  So a great deal of money is spent on lobbying.

Of course not all of it is wasted.  Drutman is judicious in evaluating lobbying effects: he writes that “contrary to public opinion, politics is not a vending machine.” Id. at 23.  But in certain circumstances, depending on the salience of the issue and other factors, lobbyist can be quite effective, and the well-paid experience and savvy lobbyists are the most effective. One clear finding is that lobbyists who come out of government, spinning the revolving door as they go, can boast of a relatively impressive record of success for their clients.  Wrong to believe that all their lobbying dollars are worthwhile, the corporate employers of lobbyists are not mistaken to believe that sometimes it pays-- and they are well advised to pay-- to have the best lobbying talent on their side.

Mark Schmitt on New Directions in Political Reform

February 6, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer
It is no secret that the campaign finance debate has become fruitless and repetitious – – in short, exhausted. Mark Schmitt of the New America Foundation, a powerful progressive voice on reform, is one among a number of who believes that the entire question should be rethought from scratch. He has published a paper through a collaborative effort of the Brennan Center for Justice and the New America Foundation, arguing for a new framework built around a conception of political opportunity. He should win a large audience for what he says about the staleness and inaccuracies in the policy debate, and for the suggestions he makes for a change in direction.

Fiascos and Matters of Degree

March 27, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer
The most recent issue of Election Law Journal offers interesting writing on lobbying. One of the articles, Money, Priorities and Stalemate: How Lobbying Affects Public Policy, is a study by Professor Frank R. Baumgartner and several colleagues who show that there is an unimpressive relationship between the resources devoted to lobbying and particular outcomes that the lobbyists had hoped to bring about. The authors do not suggest that the money put behind lobbying has no effect, only that we should understand better the nature of the effect and its limits. A number of factors, they argue, are relevant to the measurement of lobbying success, including the capacity of lobbyists to hold the attention of lawmakers who must choose among a broad range of issues in allocating their time. The co-authors of this study also stress that many of the advantages possessed by well-established interests are already "baked in" to public policy, and therein lies a major advantage: that it is much harder to change a policy than to establish one.

Assessing Lobbying Reform in the Obama Administration

March 18, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer

Assessing Lobbying Reform in the Obama Administration

Presentation to the American University Conference on Lobbying Reform in the U.S. and the E.U.

March 17, 2014

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Political Reform and Varieties of Libertarianism

February 14, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer
In the coming campaigns, in 2014 and beyond, political reform is certain to be a topic for discussion. The press will look for a clear statement of the candidate’s positions; the Supreme Court will decide at least one more case that will excite comment and lead to proposals; and certain other prominent issues, such as income inequality and government performance, lead naturally to arguments about campaign finance and lobbying reform. We can imagine, too, that the candidates in addressing these issues will sort out as they most always do—Democrats supporting reform that Republicans find objectionable, with the divide displayed sharply in competing depictions of the soundness and effects of Citizens United.