The Complexity of Lobbying

First Street™ staff attended the first debate in the Miller-McCune Live series at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on September 16, 2010. The debate, titled “Why Do Lobbyists Have the Veto?”, was hosted by Miller-McCune editor-in-chief John Mecklin. Joining the debate were Frank Baumgartner, co-author of Lobbying and Policy Change and political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen; and Rolf Lundberg Jr., senior vice president for congressional and public affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“The real outcome of most lobbying is … nothing,” Mecklin stated as he opened the debate. This line was taken from Melinda Burns’s article “K Street and the Status Quo” in the September/October issue of Miller-McCune, which was based on a review of the book by Baumgartner, et al. Baumgartner explained that he and his co-authors had found, contrary to popular belief, no correlation between the level of resources available to lobbyists and the desired outcome, whether that is maintaining the status quo or effecting policy change. Holman disagreed, stating that “money is critical,” and since the tools for lobbyists to affect outcome are “exceedingly expensive”, the side with greater material resources wins. Baumgartner countered that that isn’t always the case: in their study, a side could bring to bear more resources and get nowhere with their policy change due to a “scarcity of attention.” There are simply too many societal problems to tackle; thus, the reason why the status quo is so “sticky” and not easily altered.

Although there was no consensus whether financial resources affected outcome of lobbying, there was general agreement that lobbyists operate in a multifaceted “ecosystem”. “Each coalition is as unique as each issue,” Lundberg noted, as “the impact of policy change is broadly distributed.”  This results in a high degree of complexity with diverse impacts on diverse constituencies. Baumgartner was surprised in the course of his research to see such heterogeneous alliances fighting on each side, coalitions not singularly driven by any one player. Lundberg mentioned that the Chamber of Commerce alone is actively following and working on an average of 500 issues each week.

It is in this ecosystem that First Street™ will add value when it launches in early 2011. Our First Street Coalition Builder™ will help lobbyists quickly find those players that can help them in affecting policy.

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