Interest Groups & Advocacy

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 272–289 | Cite as

A theoretical foundation for assessing principal-agent problems in lobbying ethics and an empirical test

Original Article

Abstract

The lobbying industry is frequently held out as the most unethical part of the American political system, corrupting the governing system for the benefit of special interests at the expense of the public interest and thus in need of stern regulation, if lobbying is permitted at all. But what does it mean for a lobbyist to be “unethical,” or “ethical” for that matter? Is there such a thing as ethical lobbying? In this paper, I argue that theoretical models of how lobbying works and constitutional protections of the profession, taken together, provide a foundation for determining what kinds of lobbying might be considered ethical, and why lobbyists frequently slide into ethical gray areas. I then use data from interviews conducted with lobbyists working on six issues over a period of four years to empirically test explanations as to why lobbyists might behave in ways that are arguably unethical. Finally, I end the paper by speculating on what might be done to constrain lobbyists into behaving ethically.

Keywords

Lobbying Ethics Interest groups Principal-agent Information asymmetry Advocacy 

References

  1. Ainsworth, S.H. 1997. The role of legislators in the determination of interest group influence. Legislative Studies Quarterly 22 (4): 517–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ainsworth, S.H., and I. Sened. 1993. The role of lobbyists: Entrepreneurs with two audiences. American Journal of Political Science 37 (3): 834–866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allard, N.W. 2008. Lobbying is an honorable profession: The right to petition and the competition to be right. Stanford Law and Policy Review 19 (1): 23–68.Google Scholar
  4. American Bar Association. 2011. Lobbying law in the spotlight: Challenges and proposed improvements. Report of the task force on federal lobbying laws. Washington, DC: American Bar Association.Google Scholar
  5. Austen-Smith, D. 1993. Information and influence: Lobbying for agendas and votes. American Journal of Political Science 37 (3): 799–833.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baumgartner, F.R., J.M. Berry, M. Hojnacki, D.C. Kimball, and B.L. Leech. 2009. Lobbying and policy change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brasher, H. 2006. Listening to hearings: Legislative hearings and legislative outcomes. American Politics Research 34 (5): 583–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Continetti, Matthew. 2006. The friends of Jack Abramoff. The Weekly Standard, January 16.  http://www.weeklystandard.com/article/7749. Accessed on 27 June 2017.
  9. Dodd, L.C. 1977. Congress and the quest for power. In Congress reconsidered, ed. L.C. Dodd, and B.I. Oppenheimer. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  10. Drutman, L. 2015. The business of America is lobbying. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dwoskin, E. 2012. Lobbyist on incremental mission to restore lobbying’s good name. Bloomberg News, July 7: 78.Google Scholar
  12. Fernandes, A.N. 2009. Ethical considerations of the public sector lobbyist. McGeorge Law Review 41 (1): 183–202.Google Scholar
  13. Gerken, H.K., and A. Tausanovitch. 2014. A public finance model for lobbying: Lobbying, campaign finance, and the privatization of democracy. Election Law Journal 13 (1): 75–90.Google Scholar
  14. Greenwood, J., and J. Dreger. 2013. The transparency register: A European vanguard of strong lobby regulation. Interest Groups & Advocacy 2 (2): 139–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Grenzke, J.M. 1989. PACs and the congressional supermarket: The currency is complex. American Journal of Political Science 33 (1): 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hansen, J.M. 1991. Gaining access: Congress and the farm lobby, 1919–1981. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hartnett, K. 2015. Would more lobbying improve America? Politico, August 24. http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2015/08/would-more-lobbying-improve-america-000206. Accessed on 27 June 2017.
  18. Heaney, M.T. 2006. Brokering health policy: Coalitions, parties, and interest group influence. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 31 (4): 887–944.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Higginson, S.A. 1986. A short history of the right to petition government for a redress of grievances. Yale Law Journal 96 (1): 142–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hojnacki, M. 1997. Interest groups’ decisions to join alliances or work alone. American Journal of Political Science 41 (1): 61–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Holt, J.C. 1992. Magna carta, 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Holyoke, T.T. 2009. Interest group competition and coalition formation. American Journal of Political Science 53 (2): 360–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Holyoke, T.T. 2011. Competitive interests: Competition and compromise in American interest group politics. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Holyoke, T.T. 2015a. The ethical lobbyist: Reforming Washington’s influence industry. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Holyoke, T.T. 2015b. Challenges of integrating levels of analysis in interest group research. In Organizational ecology of interest communities, ed. V. Gray, D. Halpin, and D. Lowery, 79–97. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Jankowsky, J. 2006. Lobbying and lobby reform: A practitioner’s viewpoint. Extensions 14 (3): 20–24.Google Scholar
  27. Kaiser, R.G. 2009. So damn much money: The triumph of lobbying and the corruption of the American government. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  28. Kenen, J. 2003. Angry and wet, AARP members try to burn cards. Reuters News Service, November 19. http://www.newsmine.org/content.php?ol=cabal-elite/w-administration/big-money/drug-bill/aarpmembers-burn-cards.txt. Accessed on 27 June 2017.
  29. Kersh, R. 2000. State autonomy and civil society: The lobbyist connection. Critical Review 14 (2–3): 237–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kersh, R. 2002. Corporate lobbyists as political actors: A view from the field. In Interest group politics, 6th ed, ed. A.J. Cigler, and B.A. Loomis, 225–248. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press.Google Scholar
  31. Kingdon, J.W. 1973. Congressmen’s voting decisions. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  32. Krishnakumar, A.S. 2007. Towards a Madisonian, interest-group-based approach to lobbying regulation. Alabama Law Review 58 (3): 513–528.Google Scholar
  33. LaPira, T.M., and H.F. Thomas III. 2014. Revolving door lobbyists and interest representation. Interest Groups & Advocacy 3 (1): 4–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lawson, G., and G. Seidman. 1999. Downsizing the right to petition. Northwestern University Law Review 93 (3): 739–766.Google Scholar
  35. Lazarus, J., A.M. McKay, and L. Herbel. 2016. Who walks through the revolving door? Examining the lobbying activity of former members of Congress. Interest Groups & Advocacy 5 (1): 82–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lohmann, S. 2003. Representative government and special interest politics. Journal of Theoretical Politics 15 (2): 299–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lowery, D., and K. Marschetti. 2012. You don’t know Jack: Principals, agents and lobbying. Interest Groups & Advocacy 1 (2): 139–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lowi, T.J. 1964. American business, public policy, case-studies, and political theory. World Politics 16 (2): 677–715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Luneburg, W.V. 2009. The evolution of federal lobbying regulation: Where we are now and where we should be going. McGeorge Law Review 41 (1): 85–130.Google Scholar
  40. Mahoney, C., and L. Drutman. 2017. On the advantages of a well-constructed lobbying system: toward a more democratic, modern lobbying process. Interest Groups & Advocacy. doi: 10.1057/s41309-017-0020-2.
  41. Mansbridge, J.J. 1992. A deliberative theory of interest representation. In The politics of interests: Interest groups transformed, ed. M.P. Petracca. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  42. Mayhew, D.R. 1974. Congress: The electoral connection. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  43. McGrath, C. 2008. The development and regulation of lobbying in the new member states of the European Union. Journal of Public Affairs 8 (1): 15–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rehr, D.K. 2012. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act: Five years later. Washington, DC: Lobbyists.info.Google Scholar
  45. Salisbury, R.H. 1969. An exchange theory of interest groups. Midwest Journal of Political Science 13 (1): 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schiff, E.L., K. Seufer, A. Whitesell, and D. Lowery. 2015. Agency problems and interest representation: An empirical analysis of the cost of lobbying. Interest Groups & Advocacy 4 (3): 225–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Stephenson, M., and H.E. Jackson. 2010. Lobbyists as imperfect agents: Implications for public policy in a pluralist system. Harvard Journal on Legislation 47 (4): 1–25.Google Scholar
  48. Susman, T.M. 2006. Lobbying in the 21st Century: Reciprocity and the need for reform. Administrative Law Review 58 (3): 737–752.Google Scholar
  49. Susman, T.M. 2008. Private ethics, public conduct: An essay on ethical lobbying, campaign contributions, reciprocity, and the public good. Stanford Law and Policy Review 19 (1): 10–22.Google Scholar
  50. Thomas, H.F., and T.M. LaPira. 2017. How many lobbyists are in Washington? Shadow lobbying and the political economy of policy advocacy. Interest Groups & Advocacy. doi: 10.1057/s41309-017-0024-y.Google Scholar
  51. Travis, H.A. 2015. 3 organizations that use Facebook private groups for advocacy. Connectivity. http://connectivity.cqrollcall.com/3-organizations-that-use-facebook-private-groups-for-advocacy/. Accessed on 27 June 2017.
  52. Weil, D., A. Fung, M. Graham, and E. Fagotta. 2006. The effectiveness of regulatory disclosure policies. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 25 (4): 155–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Woodstock Theological Center. 2002. The ethics of lobbying: Organized interests, political power, and the common good. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Wright, J.R. 1996. Interest groups and congress. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  55. Yackee, S.W. 2015. Invisible (and visible) lobbying: The case of state regulatory policymaking. State Politics & Policy Quarterly 15 (3): 322–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceCalifornia State University, FresnoFresnoUSA

Personalised recommendations