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

  • Thomas T. Holyoke
Original Article


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.


Lobbying Ethics Interest groups Principal-agent Information asymmetry Advocacy 


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

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

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