Partisan polarization and corporate lobbying: information, demand, and conflict


How do political environment and organization characteristics combine to impact lobbying behavior? I answer this question using a time series analysis of an original dataset comprised of corporate lobbying disclosure reports, made available through the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. I theorize that polarization will drive increases in lobbying efforts toward Congress in particular, due to the increasing challenges of legislating under such conditions. The findings indicate that polarization does appear to increase lobbying in Congress, while firm wealth, combined with constituency-based connections to members of Congress, decreases lobbying efforts, perhaps due to increased efficacy of efforts (quality over quantity). These findings, when paired with recent evidence regarding the relationship between leadership and non-leadership members of Congress, suggest that lobbyists may be becoming an increasingly integral source of information for members of Congress who do not hold leadership positions.

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  1. 1.

    Firms are certainly not the only types of groups who lobby. Public interest groups, trade associations, and even state governments also engage in lobbying. However, businesses dominate the lobbying landscape across every industry. In lobbying, broadly, businesses have spent between $22 and $35 dollars on lobbying for every one dollar spent by diffuse interest groups and unions combined (Drutman 2015, 13). Agriculture holds out as a relatively less corporate sector, and yet, nearly 25% of lobbying done in the livestock sector can be attributed to companies; around 30% of crop production and basic processing lobbying is done by companies; and almost 100% of tobacco lobbying can be accounted for by looking at company lobbying (Drutman 2015, 111). Corporate lobbying is, by no means, the only type of lobbying, but it is significant and worth study on its own merit.

  2. 2.

    I conducted a set of 17 interviews with lobbyists, legislative staffers, and reporters. I interviewed five trade association lobbyists, four congressional staffers, three corporate lobbyists, two contract lobbyists, two journalists, and one formal coalition lobbyist. Interview subjects were first chosen randomly from a dataset of all lobbyists work worked on the 2008 Farm Bill. Further subjects were recruited using snowball sampling. All interviewees were asked a set of pre-determined, basic questions; however, the conversation was fairly free form and allowed interviewees to largely steer the conversation. Interviews were recorded with permission and transcribed at a later date.

  3. 3.

    A full detailing of this dataset, its uses, and its vagaries and shortcomings can be found in the previously cited Thomas and LaPira working paper.

  4. 4.

    All reports filed before 2008 have a 0, while all reports filed during or after 2008 are designated with a 1. To fully understand the necessity of this dummy variable, it is necessary to thoroughly understand the structure of LDA forms and the data that they produce. See the cited Thomas and LaPira working paper.

  5. 5.

    The actual physical form used to report lobbying, filed by a corporation or interest group, may include multiple lobbyists, issues, and interactions with multiple institutions. However, it is nonetheless useful and descriptive to refer to any specific report of lobbyist–legislature interaction as being a “report,” with the understanding that the terminology is not synonymous with the physical form that an interest group fills out.

  6. 6.

    While using a zero-inflated model would be desirable under these conditions, it is not possible to use both a zero-inflated model and control for the time series element. I have chosen to address the time-series nature of the data, rather than the problem of zero-inflation.

  7. 7.

    Firms fill out lobbying reports 4 times per year, assuming they meet the minimum requirements. Each report includes an appropriate place to disclose institution lobbied, as well as which lobbyists interacted with that institution. For instance, a report might indicate that contract lobbyist A lobbied the House and the Senate; and in-house lobbyist B lobbied the FDA.

  8. 8.

    Data were not restricted based on which agencies were lobbied. If the lobbying issue reported was categorized as “agriculture,” then it was included in the database. An exhaustive list of all agencies found in the data would be quite long. Examples of additional agencies lobbied include the Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Office of US Trade Representation, Department of Commerce, Department of Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Interior, Department of Treasury, and many, many others.

  9. 9.

    During previous iterations of this research, various commenters and reviewers have asked to see the model with a lagged dependent variable. Though autocorrelation is not a problem in this dataset, critical readers may nonetheless wish to see the regression including this lagged measure. Accordingly, it may be found in the Appendix of this article.

  10. 10.

    Including separate measures of polarization in the House and Senate, as opposed to averaging the two made no appreciable difference in regression results.

  11. 11.

    It would be ideal to use employment at various corporate locations, rather than simply corporate headquarters location, to determine constituency relationships. Unfortunately, collecting this data is highly impractical, if not impossible.

  12. 12.

    The interaction term is the firm revenue (normalized by logging), multiplied times the number of “constituency connections” a firm has to members of Congress on relevant committees.

  13. 13.

    One proxy for measuring lobbyist efficacy is to look at how much these lobbyists are paid. Lobbyists, for instance, who enjoy more connections to legislators and staffers on Capitol Hill enjoy higher salaries and are in more demand professionally (LaPira and Thomas III 2017). However, due to the nature of lobbying disclosure reports, it is impossible to disambiguate lobbying salary while also specifically looking at lobbying activity in a particular policy area. Lobbying disclosure forms report total amount paid to a lobbyist for all advocacy, across all policy areas, and do not allow researchers to see how a lobbyist was paid for their work on a single issue-area. Trying to match lobbyist salary to lobbying activity in a single issue would present challenges in particular for including contract lobbyists in the dataset, who may have been paid “less” in a year for their work for a particular company, but earned a higher per-hour fee than their in-house counterparts.


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Brock, C. Partisan polarization and corporate lobbying: information, demand, and conflict. Int Groups Adv (2021).

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  • Interest groups
  • Lobbying
  • Agriculture
  • Corporate lobbying
  • Congress