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The transparency organization MapLight records instances of organizations taking positions for and against legislation in Congress. The dataset comprises some 130,000 such positions taken on thousands of bills between the 109th and 115th Congresses (2005–2018). The depth and breadth of these data potentially give them wide applicability for answering questions about interest group behavior and influence as well as legislative politics more broadly. However, the coverage and content of the data are affected by aspects of MapLight’s research process. This article introduces the MapLight dataset and its potential uses, examines issues related to sampling and other aspects of MapLight’s research process, and explains how scholars can address these to make appropriate use of the data.
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Interest Groups & Advocacy (2020) 9:342–360
Large‑N bill positions data from What can we
learn frominterest groups’ publicly observable legislative
GeoreyM.Lorenz1 · AlexanderC.Furnas2· JesseM.Crosson3
Published online: 22 April 2020
© Springer Nature Limited 2020
The transparency organization MapLight records instances of organizations tak-
ing positions for and against legislation in Congress. The dataset comprises some
130,000 such positions taken on thousands of bills between the 109th and 115th
Congresses (2005–2018). The depth and breadth of these data potentially give them
wide applicability for answering questions about interest group behavior and influ-
ence as well as legislative politics more broadly. However, the coverage and content
of the data are affected by aspects of MapLight’s research process. This article intro-
duces the MapLight dataset and its potential uses, examines issues related to sam-
pling and other aspects of MapLight’s research process, and explains how scholars
can address these to make appropriate use of the data.
Keywords MapLight· Interest groups· Legislative politics· Political economy·
Lobbying· Bill positions· Congress
Interest groups routinely lobby for and against legislation in the U.S. Congress.
These efforts may influence a bill’s content as well as its likelihood of advancing
through the legislative process and into law. For decades, scholarship on inter-
est groups has been hampered by the difficulty of assessing groups’ positions on
* Geoffrey M. Lorenz
Alexander C. Furnas
Jesse M. Crosson
1 Department ofPolitical Science, University ofNebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, USA
2 Department ofPolitical Science, University ofMichigan, AnnArbor, USA
3 Trinity University andFaculty Fellow, Center fortheStudy ofDemocratic Politics, Princeton
University, Princeton, USA
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... From 2007 to 2016, the MapLight organization collected data on whether lobbyists for thousands of organizations opposed or supported thousands of bills in Congress. 2 Lorenz, Furnas, and Crosson (2020) describe the way MapLight collected this data from years of public statements, press releases, statements to the media, hearing testimony, and other public records, and discuss issues of data validity. Each observation is based in a clear position taken in a public statement regarding a specific bill. ...
Do lobbyists always advocate for the interests of the members or clients employing them, or, under competing pressures, do they sometimes take positions on bills reflecting the interests of lawmakers or other lobbyists? Do they, in fact, lobby strategically by making choices that balance competing pressures in pursuit of goals like furthering their careers? Most lobbying research assumes that interest groups and lobbyists are the same, but I argue that the interests of lobbyists may be different from those they represent, which I test with a model of strategic lobbying using data on positions lobbyists took on bills in Congress from 2006 to 2017 made available by MapLight. I find that lobbyists sometimes do take positions at odds with member interests under pressure from legislators, other lobbyists, and the president, though some groups can constrain their lobbyists. I conclude by speculating on what this means for lobbying as a form of representation.
... The raw data described by Geoffrey Lorenz, Alexander Furnas, and Jesse Crosson, for example, come from MapLight, a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) charitable organization that collects (and freely shares) data related to the role of money in politics. Lorenz, Furnas, and Crosson describe the structure of these data-more than 130,000 observations of organizations taking positions for and against legislation in Congress between the 109th and 115th Congresses (2005Congresses ( -2018-and give examples of how these data have been, and might be, used (Lorenz et al. 2020). ...
Technological advances, increasing amounts of online governmental records, and transparency efforts by nonprofit organizations have led to a new abundance of data sources for studying the political activities of interest groups. In this special issue, fourteen sets of authors review these data sources and offer advice on how best to make use of them. The data sources discussed include reports filed as required by the Administrative Procedures Act, the Federal Election Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and the Lobbying Disclosure Act, as well as data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, the Comparative Agendas Project, the Comparative Interest Groups survey project, INTERARENA, INTEREURO, MapLight, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the Political Group Communication Database, and the Wesleyan Media Project.
Political scientists have repeatedly failed to establish a relationship between the money companies funnel into political campaigns and how members of Congress vote. Notably, studies have mainly examined how campaign contributions affect the voting of their direct recipients. However, considering the partisan divide and intense power struggle between the two major American parties, this paper proposes that the influence of campaign contributions operates at the party level. That means a member of Congress is more likely to side with a firm whose donations favor her party, even if the firm has not given to the member’s own campaign. Correspondingly, legislators should be less likely to vote in line with the policy preferences of firms whose donations predominately go to the other party. A quantitative analysis of campaign contributions, corporate policy positions, and roll-call votes in Congress bears out these propositions. While the paper also uncovers a recipient effect, the party effect is more substantial.
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A growing body of literature within the study of state legislatures cites interest groups as a major source of legislation. In spite of these findings, less is known about the actual nature of group-written legislation, including how it differs from traditional, member-driven legislation or how agenda scarcity alters groups' bill-writing strategies. In this study, we generate an original dataset of bill proposal and status quo location estimates in California in order to investigate how group-sponsored bills differ from traditional member-written legislation. To do so, we jointly scale data on bill-specific interest group position-taking, member cosponsorship and roll call behavior, developing a large set of proposal and status quo location estimates on the same preference scale as ideal points for both interest groups and members of the legislature. Using these scores, we investigate how group-sponsored bills compared to traditional legislation in their ideological extremity and sensitivity.
Many studies consider the effect of lobbying on the behavior of individual legislators, but few studies demonstrate a relationship between lobbying and the ultimate dispositions of bills by the legislature. One challenge to establishing this latter relationship is data scarcity, as few legislatures systematically collect and publish information on organized interests’ lobbying activities on each bill. We provide new insights on lobbying by using data from Colorado, Nebraska, and Wisconsin that records the positions organized interests take on proposals in those states’ legislatures. We find that organized interests’ lobbying predicts outcomes, especially when lobbying is directed against a proposal. We also use our data to test whether lobbying succeeds by building support among legislators (i.e., vote buying) or by affecting a proposal’s advancement through the legislative process (i.e., agenda control). We find that lobbying does not buy the votes of legislators on the committees of jurisdiction for each bill, but lobbying does strongly predict what bills make it onto the agenda. Our findings contribute to ongoing discussions about money and politics, bias in representation, and legislator behavior.
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Message bills are hopeless legislation constructed not to change public policy but instead to signal desirable attributes of incumbents to constituents-virtue signaling. Well-known examples are the repeated hopeless attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act during the 113th and 114th Congresses. To explore the logic of message legislation, we create a formal principal-agent model of electoral accountability. The theory makes explicit predictions about who signals, on what kind of issues, and when. Then, using novel and extensive data on bill locations and status quo locations, we test the predictions. The data suggest that most introduced bills are not viable. Who messages and on what topics appear consistent with the theory; the evidence is less supportive on when members message. We further show that the patterns predicted for non-viable message bills do not hold in viable bills. We briefly discuss the normative implications. Message legislation helps voters select zealous representatives , but perhaps at the cost of lower quality policy-making.
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Directly testing important theories of congressional lawmaking has been limited by small samples, costly data requirements, strong theoretical assumptions, or stringent lobbying disclosure requirements at other levels of government. We address these issues by jointly scaling cosponsorship, roll call, and interest group position-taking data to estimate proposal and status quo locations for 1,007 bills from the 110th through the 114th Congresses. Importantly, because interest groups in our data take public positions on bills before they ever receive a roll call vote, our approach generates point estimates for a large number of bills that never receive a roll call vote, permitting comparison between bills that do and do not advance through Congress. After validating our estimates, we present several applications demonstrating that legislative advancement favors moderate proposals over partisan ones, and that effective lawmakers are those who make proposals closer to the median even at the expense of their preferred policy.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has induced a system-wide economic downturn disrupting virtually every conceivable economic interest. Which interests do legislators publicly champion during such crises? Here, we examine mentions of particular industries across thousands of press releases issued by members of Congress during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (January to June 2020). We show that members consistently emphasized interests significant to their constituency and party network, but less so their direct campaign contributors or ideological allies. This suggests that members believe they must be seen as good district representatives and party stewards even when national crises could justifiably induce them to favor any number of interests.
Tests of legislative gatekeeping theories have been hampered by the absence of status quo estimates, making these tests vulnerable to selection bias. I overcome this problem with a novel data set on positions by private interests in Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, because these states' legislatures record organizations' positions on lobbied bills irrespective of whether the bills receive floor consideration. This permits an estimation of the ideological locations of status quo policies for bills with and without floor consideration, and in turn rigorous empirical tests of agenda control theories. The data provide substantial evidence of partisan and nonpartisan gatekeeping, and can adjudicate among the two models of gatekeeping in specific circumstances. In particular, they corroborate partisan gatekeeping in the Iowa House and the Wisconsin Assembly, and cannot distinguish between the two accounts in the other chambers. Moreover, the results show that strong partisan institutions need not result in predominantly partisan gatekeeping.
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For decades, critics of pluralism have argued that the American interest group system exhibits a significantly biased distribution of policy preferences. We evaluate this argument by measuring groups’ revealed preferences directly, developing a set of ideal point estimates, IGscores, for over 2,600 interest groups and 950 members of Congress on a common scale. We generate the scores by jointly scaling a large dataset of interest groups’ positions on congressional bills with roll-call votes on those same bills. Analyses of the scores uncover significant heterogeneity in the interest group system, with little conservative skew and notable inter-party differences in preference correspondence between legislators and ideologically similar groups. Conservative bias and homogeneity reappear, however, when weighting IGscores by groups’ PAC contributions and lobbying expenditures. These findings suggest that bias among interest groups depends on the extent to which activities like PAC contributions and lobbying influence policymakers’ perceptions about the preferences of organized interests.
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This article examines lobbying firms as intermediaries between organized interests and legislators in the United States. It states a partisan theory of legislative subsidy in which lobbying firms are institutions with relatively stable partisan identities. Firms generate greater revenues when their clients believe that firms’ partisan ties are valued highly by members of Congress. It hypothesizes that firms that have partisan ties to the majority party receive greater revenues than do firms that do not have such ties, as well as that partisan ties with the House majority party lead to greater financial returns than do partisan ties to the Senate majority party. These hypotheses are tested using data available under the Lobbying Disclosure Act from 2008 to 2016. Panel regression analysis indicates that firms receive financial benefits when they have partisan ties with the majority party in the House but not necessarily with the Senate majority party, while controlling for firm-level covariates (number of clients, diversity, and organizational characteristics). A difference-in-differences analysis establishes that Democratically aligned lobbying firms experienced financial losses when the Republican Party reclaimed the House in 2011, but there were no significant differences between Republican and Democratic firms when the Republicans reclaimed the Senate in 2015.
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Many studies have identified a line of influence between interest group lobbying and the federal bureaucracy’s implementation of public policy. These works, however, have often focused on the influence of individual groups rather than coalitional efforts, which compose the majority of lobbying. Assessing this activity is critical to understanding the role of public participants in administrative policymaking. I test the influence of diverse coalitions of interest groups on bureaucratic policy outputs by analyzing a new dataset of organizations’ co‐signed public comments across nearly 350 federal agency rules proposed between 2005 and 2015. I find that agencies favor recommendations from organizationally diverse coalitions, and not coalitions that are bipartisan or dominated by business interests. Further, I find that coalition influence is heightened when lobbying in coalitions that are larger in size and more well‐resourced, and when policy salience is low. I conclude that diverse lobbying coalitions help bureaucrats to shape the direction and content of regulatory law. This conclusion further establishes the role of organizational participants in bureaucratic policymaking and contributes to the debate over democratic legitimacy in the administrative state.
Do bipartisan contributions by corporations and trade associations reflect strategic considerations or ideological moderation? In this article, I leverage lobbying disclosures in Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin to provide a new measure of ideology that allows me to adjudicate between the two accounts. These states' legislatures permit or require lobbyists to declare their principals' positions on lobbied bills. I combine these data with roll call votes to estimate the ideal points of legislators and private interests in the same ideological space. I find that the revealed preferences of most corporations and trade groups are more conservative than what would be implied by their contribution behavior. This shows that a moderate contribution record need not imply moderation in policy preferences. Thus, such interests may not reduce polarization overall. Further, the divergence between contribution and position-taking behavior indicates that many business interests employ sophisticated strategies to influence public officials whom they disagree with.
Do interest groups and corporate lobbyists tend to support or oppose bills moving through Congress? Do they oppose legislation in early, malleable stages, such as in committees, or are they more likely to oppose legislation in later stages when majorities of lawmakers are pushing bills towards final votes? And can pressure form legislators force lobbyists to support bills inconsistent with their members’ interests? In this paper, I use data developed by the MapLight organisation on position taking by lobbyists lobbying the US Congress over ten years to find answers. Analysing a model built on theories of interest group influence, legislative behaviour, and the separation of powers, I find that lobbyists strategically choose their positions on bills for a variety of reasons, often prioritizing their need to please legislative allies over the need to faithfully represent interest group members or clients. The results raises serious concerns about representation by lobbyists.
To what extent do political parties have an effect on the policy-related activity of interest groups? Drawing from ideas of conflict expansion and the structure of extended party networks, we argue that political parties are able to pull interest groups into more policy conflicts than they otherwise would be involved in. We posit that parties are able to draw interest groups to be active outside of established issue niches. We suggest that several mechanisms—shared partisan electoral incentives, reciprocity, identification with the means, and cue-taking behavior—lead groups to participate in more diverse political conflicts. By linking data on interest group bill positions and the policy content of legislation, we generate a novel measure of 158 interest groups’ alignment with political parties. We find that the more an interest group is ideologically aligned with a political party, the more diverse their issue agenda becomes.