“Citizen and lobbyist access to Members of Congress: Who gets and who gives?”

Forthcoming in Interest Groups & Advocacy, and coauthored with Josh Brodbeck, a former undergraduate student at the University of Denver (from last century), and current University of Florida Ph.D. student, Matthew Harrigan. The advance online publication is available here.

Citizen and lobbyist access to Members of Congress: Who gets and who gives?
Josh Brodbeck, Matthew T. Harrigan, and Daniel A. Smith

Executive Summary Members of Congress grant access to outsiders as a means of alleviating uncertainty over policies and elections. For those seeking access to Congress, a key factor determining their success is the appearance of usefulness, namely, the perceived ability to provide a Member of Congress with some resource that he or she desires. These resources come in a variety of forms, including votes, campaign contributions, policy expertise and public credibility. Given these assumptions, who is granted access to Congress, and which members are more likely to grant it? Previous studies have found a direct relationship between organization or Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions and access to Members of Congress, measured by the amount of contact. Some have gone a step further, finding that, while PACs play an indisputable role in access, the real driver is constituency, or at least salience to the district or state from which the Member of Congress hails. Here, we present the results of an experiment conducted in the spring and summer of 2010, in which one of the authors called the offices of each member of the Senate, first as a private citizen and then as a registered federal lobbyist, and requested a meeting with each senator to discuss a health care bill that had been languishing in committee for some time. Unsurprisingly, the registered lobbyist experienced a clear advantage over the ordinary citizen, securing 27 meetings compared to just 7 as a citizen. The lobbyist was granted more access in other measurable categories, although party affiliation or campaign contributions had little effect. While previous studies have found strong PAC contribution and constituency effects on access, one important fact stands out from our experience: only 8 of the 100 Senate offices asked whether the lobbyist had an interest in the senator’s state, and only 4 of the 27 who granted meetings did so. Perhaps the assumption that a lobbyist, whether in- or out-of-state, is a potential source of campaign funds is strong enough to override the constituency effect, but we found no compelling evidence that membership on relevant committees or a past reliance on health sector or lobbyist contributions drove access. Rather, it appears as if ‘lobbyist’ simply works as a magic word when requesting access to a Member of Congress, with power beyond the borders of a state or district. Although the results of our experiment are limited, they do suggest that several questions about citizen and lobbyist access to Congress remain and need to be addressed, especially given the normative assumption that Members of Congress should represent the people they serve.

Jeb Bush champions full campaign finance disclsoure

Former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, testifying before a House Budget Committee panel a couple days ago, championed the full transparency of all campaign donors.

Republic Report has the video:

BUSH: In a perfect world, we could have a different financing system. I love the idea of having campaigns be funded directly, rather than indirectly. And have no limits and total transparency so if people were offended by a large donor, the candidate, he or she, would have to accept responsibility for the message and the for the amount of money and who gave it. That would be, for me, talking about markets, rather than government control kind of response, that would be a better approach. […] I would suggest Congress should show more self-restraint about allowing that influence to change policy if that’s the view.

Don’t Overlook Off-Year Bellwether Ballot Measures

Election Day 2011 is fast approaching. Most eyes will be focused on the the regularly-scheduled off-year gubernatorial elections in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, as well as a special gubernatorial election in West Virginia. There are also legislative races Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia. Some pundits suggest that the collective results of these off-year races may serve as a bellwether for the 2012 general election.

Equally, if not more important, though, are the results of the referred and initiated statewide measures on the ballot.

Citizens in nine states–Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and Washington–will have the opportunity to cast ballots in October on 34 ballot measures, including a dozen measures put on the ballot by citizen.

In terms of ballot bellwethers, topping all other campaigns is “Issue 2” on the ballot in Ohio. The popular referendum is an effort by citizens to repeal the anti-worker Senate Bill 5 that was signed into law by Governor Kasich. If Issue 2 goes down, it should be interpreted not only as a blow against conservatives in Ohio, but also Republicans pushing anti-worker policies in others states, including Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, and especially Wisconsin.

Social conservatives and pro-choice advocates will be turning their attention south, as Mississippi voters will confront an extreme anti-choice “personhood” amendment. Voters in Colorado have defeated a similar measure. Suffice to say, Mississippi is not Colorado.

The Huffington Post has good overviews of both of these issues:

A third measure to watch out for is a popular referendum in Maine that will overturn a Republican-sponsored law ending same-day voter registration in the state. Same day voter registration is a good governance issue, not a partisan issue, though Republicans in the state seem to think otherwise.  The Sun Journal has an update on the campaign, here: People’s veto probably a close to a slam-dunk.

Finally, anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman in Washington has an initiative on the ballot that fiscal conservatives around the country will be taking stock. Fearful of all things public-infrastructure, his pet-project would cut tolls used to pay for new bridges and highways in the state.  As it has done in the past, the business community has spoken up, joining Democrats and organized labor to oppose Eyman’s latest slash and burn measure, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports:  The Association of Washington Business has come out against the Tim Eyman-sponsored Initiative 1125.

Rather than only reading the tea leaves from the 2011 candidate races, pundits should also consider the results of these ballot measures.  All four measures, as well as several others, will have implications for candidate races in 2012, from state legislative races to campaigns for Congress and the presidency.  As campaign consultants and pundits are increasingly realizing, ballot measures have a range of “educative effects,” as they can ply candidates with salient issues to support or oppose during their campaigns, mobilize turnout, and even prime candidate support.

For more on the scholarship of the “educative effects” of direct democracy, here’s a primer.

Term Limit Pledges and the FL US Senate Race

A nice post in the Orlando Sentinel on Tallahassee insider Adam Hasner’s effort in 2005–when he was a state lawmaker–to refer a  constitutional amendment on the ballot which would have raised legislative term limits from eight years to 12 years. The legislature reversed itself the following year, removing the measure from the 2006 general election ballot.

Hasner’s unbridled hypocrisy was highlighted by the campaign of fellow US Senate GOP hopeful, George LeMieux.  But Hasner’s effort isn’t new. Several state lawmakers have tried–some even successfully, such in Idaho in 2002–to overturn or extend legislative term limits imposed upon them by the voters at the polls.

That Hasner has taken a term limits pledge should he be elected to the US Senate should be taken for what it is–a meaningless publicity stunt.  As I’ve opined elsewhere, term limit pledges are essentially costless to those candidates who sign them.  Just ask two Florida Congressmen who have signed term limit pledges, Republican Representatives John Mica and Cliff Sterns. Both have overstayed their self-imposed limit of terms in office.