Archive | Interest Groups

Nixon, Kissinger, and the Influence of the “Israel Lobby”

Now, Nixon and Kissinger were crazy, and often overestimated the political forces set against them, in particular because of Nixon’s anti-Semitism. Although in this case they may have been right to be concerned about pro-Israeli sentiment, and Nixon’s ‘personal’ relationship with Israel was always more complicated than simple accusations of anti-Semitism really allow. But, I think these archival documents pretty clearly provide direct evidence that Nixon and Kissinger were influenced by at least their perception of the Lobby’s influence. And, at least for Nixon and Kissinger, I am unaware (after reading quite a bit about the administration) of another lobby exercising the same inordinate influence.

That is my colleague Eric Grynaviski over at the Duck of Minerva.  The full post is here.

Continue Reading

The Future of Farm Bills

This is a guest post by Johns Hopkins political scientist Adam Sheingate, the author of The Rise of the Agricultural Welfare State.


The recent defeat of the farm bill on the floor of the House of Representatives shows how difficult legislating has become in a polarized Congress. Since the 1960s, agricultural politics has been a largely bipartisan affair. As recently as 2008, it was possible to construct a cross-party coalition in favor of farm legislation; in fact, the 2008 farm bill became law when a two-thirds majority voted to override the veto of President George W. Bush.

Historically, farm bill politics relied on an urban-rural logroll in which farm state lawmakers voted for food stamps in exchange for urban votes on agricultural subsidies. This year’s debate shows how much this has changed. Republican efforts to cut nutrition programs, including passage of an amendment adding strict work requirements as a condition of eligibility, all but assured Democratic opposition. When ultra-conservative Republicans split ranks because they felt these cuts did not go far enough, they effectively killed the bill.

Looking more closely at the vote it is clear that support for the legislation overwhelmingly comes from districts that receive farm subsidies. It has become more and more difficult to attract non-farm state representatives to support agriculture programs. Using data collected by the Environmental Working Group, the median subsidy in districts whose members voted in favor of the bill was $7.8 million in 2012 compared to total subsidies of only $596,800 in districts whose members voted no.  This difference is more pronounced when broken down by party. Among the 24 Democrats supporting the bill, the median subsidy was over $14 million compared to only $420,000 in the 172 Democratic districts whose members voted against the bill. The difference among Republicans is a bit less stark:  the median subsidy in the 171 GOP districts voting in favor was around $10 million in 2012, compared to $2.5 million in the 62 districts whose members voted against the farm bill.


It is this opposition to the farm bill, even among farm state lawmakers, that is potentially of greatest consequence. Looking at (the log of) subsidies by party and vote on farm bill passage indicates that many members whose districts received sizable government payments still voted no.


One such member is Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) who represents the First Congressional District in Western Kansas. Huelskamp’s district received over $300 million in subsidies in 2012, second only to the at-large district of North Dakota. Although ultra-conservative Huelskamp is something of a renegade (he lost his seat on the House Agriculture Committee in late 2012 after continually running afoul of his party’s leadership), his behavior illustrates how much the Republican Party has changed, and how much farm bill politics has changed. Huelskamp represents the same Kansas district that elected Robert Dole, a central figure in the creation of the Food Stamp Program in the 1960s. In fact, Huelskamp’s departure from the House Agriculture Committee marks the first time since the 1940s that the Kansas First has not had a Representative on the agriculture panel.

Some farm state Democrats also opposed the bill. Ron Kind’s (D-WI) district received over $57 million in subsidies. However, Kind has criticized farm programs and he introduced an amendment that would have limited the size of crop insurance subsidies to $40,000 per farmer. The amendment failed.

What does the farm bill defeat mean for the future of food and nutrition policy? Two paths are possible. The most likely is that farm state lawmakers will reconstruct the farm bill coalition, perhaps by introducing the Senate version of the bill. The Senate version includes modest cuts to SNAP and therefore would attract more Democratic support. The other option, admittedly less likely, is to pass the commodity title that authorizes farm subsidies separately from the nutrition title that covers SNAP. This option is favored by conservatives such as Paul Ryan, who voted against the farm bill.

Splitting off farm subsidies from nutrition programs would be enormously consequential. In political terms, it would formally tear apart the urban-rural coalition that has been in place since the 1960s. In policy terms it would expose SNAP funding to deep cuts so long as Republicans hold a majority in the House. However, breaking the coalition would also expose farm subsidies to cuts as rural lawmakers could no longer lean on urban members for support. Interestingly, neither side wants to see less money going to its constituents yet this may be what happens as polarized policymaking makes cross-partisan coalitions less stable.

Continue Reading

APSA Has Hired Lobbyists

Political scientists are about to test some of their research in the field. The American Political Science Association has hired Barbara Kennelly Associates and Maria Freese. The association will lobby on “appropriations for State, Justice, Commerce — to eliminate restrictions on political science funding through the National Science Foundation.”

From Politico, with my link added.  Via Matt Corley.

Continue Reading

Shadow Lobbyists and the Revolving Door, or what Anthony Weiner and Newt Gingrich Have in Common

We welcome this guest post by James Madison political scientist Tim LaPira.  A previous post on Tim’s work is here.


What do Anthony Weiner and Newt Gingrich have in common?  They both served in Congress.  While there, they both became outspoken partisans, albeit on opposite sides of the aisle.  They both abruptly resigned from Congress due to revelations of what I will graciously call “personal indiscretions.”  They then went on to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year consulting corporations on the inner workings of Washington’s policy process.

And neither of them have ever registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) as a lobbyist.

Indeed, they both went so far as to stipulate in their contracts that they were not “lobbying.”  And they were right.  Kind of.  I think we can all assume that these two weren’t sought after for their keen business acumen.  After all, they both had primarily earned a living on a government salary up to the point they became lobbyists strategic policy consultants.

Gingrich was called out for his non-lobbying “historical advice” during the 2012 Republican nomination contest, which prompted columns and op-eds like this and this.  And just yesterday Micheal Barbaro’s profile of Weiner noted how his “rapid rise from disgraced lawmaker to in-demand strategic consultant demonstrates the enduring power of Washington’s revolving door.”

Cases like these motivate pundits to write opinion pieces condemning the revolving door and shadow lobbyists by pointing out what is often referred to as the “Daschle Loophole” in the LDA.   They can elude the law’s registration requirement by simply interpreting the strict statutory definition of “lobbyist” as not applying to them.  That is, so long as they are not spending 20% of their time—think one full day in a normal work week—on behalf of any single client for an entire quarter, then they do not need to register or report their lobbying activities.  Think about that: do you ever spend one full day per week for three months straight working on any one project at work?  As law professor William V. Luneberg, Jr. notes, “You can do a hell of a lot of lobbying for somebody when you’re only doing 19 percent of your time for the client.”

So the LDA loophole is not new.  In fact, has shown that under-the-radar lobbyists are on the rise.  But stealth lobbying and the revolving door tend to get the media’s attention only with high profile cases like Gingrich and Weiner.  When it does, the reporting tends to beg two key questions: how common is it for lobbyists to have gone through the revolving door? And just how many unregistered lobbyists are there in the “influence industry?”  My co-author Herschel (Trey) Thomas and I have some relevant (hopefully not too relevant) research on this here and here.

Based on our sample of about 1,600 registered lobbyists, we find that 52% had once worked in the federal government, mostly in Congress.  These revolving door lobbyists tend to have a more diverse clientele and to work on a much wider range of issues than others, suggesting that they are more likely selling “access” to former employers in government than they are using highly specialized policy expertise (which would instead lead them to attract clients from one or a few economic sectors, and to work on a single policy area).  Only about 1% of them are former members of Congress (though, it’s likely that one in two former lawmakers become lobbyists after leaving office).

Our second study is based on a random sample of “policy advocates” drawn from, the leading commercial directory of government affairs professionals.  This sample includes both registered and unregistered (shadow) lobbyists.  We find that shadow lobbyists actually outnumbered registered lobbyists in 2012.  That is, there are now more stealth lobbyists—roughly 13,000 by our conservative estimate—than there are those who register under the LDA.  Registered or not, still only about 1% served in Congress.  So, though Gingrich, Daschle, and Weiner tend to be the most notable examples of what’s wrong with lobbying transparency, they are far from alone.

Why does any of this matter?  Obviously the LDA falls far short of the open government and transparency ideal.  That’s Congress’s fault, not the lobbyists.  The overwhelming majority of lobbyists are not Jack Abramoff (gated).  They are honest and ethical, and they play a key role in representing people’s interests before government.

But that is not to say that they represent interests equally before government.  Baumgartner and colleagues show that having “covered official” lobbyists on your side is the only factor, other than having high-ranking officials inside government, that predicts “policy success” in a lobbying campaign.  Blanes i Vidal and colleagues (gated) find that revolving door lobbyists earn significantly more money than others.  And  Bertrand and colleagues show that revolving door lobbyists substitute the issues they work on when their former congressional employer switches committee assignments.  It’s not likely that any of these things would occur if revolving door lobbyists were valuable solely for their substantive policy expertise.

So, the revolving door appears to distort political representation and policy responsiveness.  But social scientists have yet to fully explain why.  One thing is for sure: the more lobbyists go into the shadows, the less likely it is that we’ll ever be able to.

Continue Reading

I don’t know whether to call it communism or crony capitalism . . .


. . . but either way it’s pretty ugly:

Last year was undoubtedly a challenging one for Consolidated Edison. There were heat waves and storms, a monthlong lockout of its unionized workers and the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. The response to the hurricane from Con Edison and other utilities led Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to appoint a commission to investigate “the failure of utility performance” last year and to threaten to revoke their franchises.

But the utility’s directors had a much different appraisal: They gave Con Ed’s top executives more than $600,000 in extra bonuses for “exemplary” performance in 2012. . . . The discretionary payouts came on top of the annual bonuses the executives received. Kevin M. Burke, the company’s chairman and chief executive, got an additional $315,000, taking his total pay for the year to $7.4 million . . .

What gets me is this bit:

“In our judgment, the company performed in exemplary fashion,” the committee chairman, George Campbell Jr., said.

These executives are already being paid the big bucks. They’re supposed to behave in exemplary fashion, that’s what they’re being paid to do already.

Also, I hate when people tell untruths:

Mr. Campbell . . . declined to discuss how the directors arrived at their decision to give an additional 20 percent in bonus money to the senior executives. He said the reasoning was “spelled out in great detail” in the proxy statement.

But the 93-page document includes just two brief mentions of the extra payouts for “guiding Con Edison of New York through significant challenges” last year.

“These challenges included a series of extreme weather events including heat waves, a nor’easter and Superstorm Sandy, the most destructive storm in the history of the company’s service area, and a monthlong work stoppage,” it says.

I can’t say for sure that Campbell was lying. To lie is to knowingly tell an untruth. It’s possible that he didn’t actually read the proxy statement. Maybe, for example, he told whoever was writing that statement to “spell out in great detail” the reasoning behind the bonuses, but then the proxy-statement-writer didn’t do the job. No bonus for that guy, I’m sure!

And some background:

Con Edison’s executive-pay practices had already earned the company low marks from monitors of corporate boards. GMI Ratings gave the company a grade of “D,” citing it for, among other flaws, having over half of its directors on the board for more than 10 years and three of them for two decades.

Continue Reading

Pushback from the elites

A reform can sound very reasonable, but when it comes up against the interests of powerful people, there can be a lot of resistance.

For example, in recent years there’s been a lot of talk about affirmative action for based on social class, to reserve some fraction of college admissions for people from low-income families, or kids who are the first in their family to go to college, or that sort of thing. It sounds like a good idea (potential difficulties of implementation aside), but as Mark Palko reminds us, such a plan will not make everyone happy. In particular, it would alienate privileged high school students with mediocre test scores.

Palko recounts the story of a high school senior who happens to be the sister of a former Wall Street Journal features editor, and published an article in that newspaper expressing how upset she was to get rejected from some colleges, even though she did not have “killer SAT scores,” “two moms,” or other attributes that she feels is necessary for acceptance at a top school.

I have some sympathy for this student. After all, my application to Harvard was rejected even though I did have killer SAT scores (but only one mom, malheureusement)—-I think the problem was they’d already filled their “nerd quota” that year.

What interested me was this bit from the student’s letter to the newspaper:

Like me, millions of high-school seniors with sour grapes are asking themselves this week how they failed to get into the colleges of their dreams. It’s simple: For years, they—we—were lied to.

Colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.” . . .

Of course there are a lot more applicants to Harvard than there are slots, so at some level this student and the millions of others in her cohort must have realized that “be yourself” can’t really be what you need to get into the college of your dreams.

The problem, I suspect, is that this student thought that the rules of scarcity didn’t apply to her. And if you spread that message to kids who have powerful relatives, you’ll start getting some pushback.

P.S. Palko follows up:

I had mixed feelings about about going after a high school senior; I’m pretty sure that most of the things I wrote at 17 would make me look like an idiot (albeit an idiot with high SATs). John D. MacDonald put it best when he said that when it came to most of his early work, he wished the acid content in the paper had been higher.

That said, this really did capture a certain mindset. It also illustrated my primary concern about factoring race into admissions: high perceived cost to actual benefit ratio. Applicants who never would have been accepted under any criteria convince themselves that their spot was taken away from them.

Continue Reading

It’s sad that Obama is doing this.

Thomas Ferguson sends along this news article by Lisa Lerer and Jonathan Salant:

Obama’s Inaugural Fundraising Lays Groundwork for Legacy

President Barack Obama has mused about his legacy . . . Now, he’s beginning to prepare for it, starting by embracing a new sponsor: Corporate America. . . . His shift from four years ago, when he banned company funding, marks an early strategic step toward building the organization that will finance his presidential library, foundation and other post-White House aspirations, advisers say.

“With a two-term president, you have the luxury of planning time,” said Skip Rutherford, who helped raise $165 million for former President Bill Clinton’s library and works as dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. . . .

For his second inauguration, Obama plans to raise $50 million from individuals and corporations. Financing his career after leaving office will cost orders of magnitude more: The price tag of his presidential library alone could easily exceed $500 million, according to presidential library experts. . . .

This just seems sad to me. You’d have to expect that whatever Obama does in the next 4 years will have much more impact than what he does in the future. Now he’s president. In 4 years he’ll just be one more well-connected rich guy. What a pointless goal.

Yes, I recognize that retired presidents ranging from Herbert Hoover to Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton have had active public lives. Not to mention John Quincy Adams. But Obama will have plenty to have an active life when the time comes—-billions or no billions. In the meantime, I’d prefer for him to focus on his current job.

Congressmembers spending all their time begging for cash is pretty sad, but at least they have the excuse that they (might) need the money for reelection. But for a second-term president to do this, just suggests a terribly misplaced set of priorities.

Although I can see this happening without it exactly being Obama’s intention. Lots of people in the Obama orbit can skim a lot of money off all these donations, so I could see them putting a lot of effort into convincing him to raise this money, even if it isn’t particularly a priority of his own.

Continue Reading

Guns Owners vs. Gun Owners in the NRA

Here is my latest post at Wonkbog.  I am delayed posting it here because of holiday travels.  It features the graph above and concludes:

This is not a world with gun owners on one side and those who do not own guns on the other.  Two of the policies most discussed in the wake of the Newtown shootings—a ban on assault weapons and a limit on the size of magazines—will attract support not only from those who don’t have a gun in their house but from those who do, especially if the gun isn’t theirs and also if the gun is theirs but they are not NRA members.

Gun owners do not speak with one voice about gun control, and, for many gun owners, Wayne LaPierre does not appear to speak for them.

Continue Reading

More on Trade and Labor Rights

I want to expand a bit on Henry’s post about trade and labor rights. There is some very good research that shows a positive effect of trade on labor rights in developing countries. For example, this article (ungated, pdf) in the American Political Science Review by Brian Greenhill, Layna Mosley, and Aseem Prakash demonstrates that the labor rights of exporting countries improve not as a function of their overall trade-openness but as they export more to countries with higher labor standards. They refer to this as a “California effect,” named after the idea that high fuel efficiency standards in California raised fuel efficiency everywhere as car makers adjusted production to Californian standards. This is the opposite of the more familiar “ race to the bottom” where producers drop standards to the lowest common denominator in order to remain competitive.

Yet, Layna Mosley shows in her book Labor Rights and Multinational Production that some forms of multinational production are more likely to produce races to the bottom than others. She identifies subcontracting of the variety that Henry blogged about as the most likely to prompt competitive races to the bottom. Subcontracting is fiercely competitive, focused largely on lowering production costs, based on short-term relationships, and has murky chains of accountability. By contrast, directly owned foreign investment creates longer time horizons and better opportunities for activists and others to hold foreign parties responsible for violations of labor standards (see also this article, pdf ungated).

What this and other research shows is that “the limits of voluntary compliance schemes are manifest,” as the  background paper for the World Development Report (WDR) mentioned by Henry puts it. The competitive pressures in subcontracting are generally too large to be ameliorated by political consumerism and companies worried about their brand names. Yet the research also shows that lower labor standards are not an inevitable byproduct of economic globalization as some (not Henry) would have it. This gives hope that better “aligning incentives so that brands, their suppliers, and governments actually implement those standards” (WDR paper) can indeed ameliorate the problem without resorting to protectionism. It also implies an important role for government regulation in ensuring that open markets function appropriately. The WDR paper has a lot more on that.

Continue Reading