Freeman Cebu Business

Political influence and Access – is there a Market?

INTEGRITY BEAT - Henry J. Schumacher - The Freeman

The issue of political influence and access as a potential avenue to corruption is hitting us again and again.

Theoretical models of lobbying have assumed a simple transaction between policymakers and lobbyists and have not yet explained why lobbying is largely conducted through repeated interactions between policymakers and lobbyists, why the lobbying industry is so focused on building relationships, and what value is added by lobbying intermediates.

The literature on political influence activities spans separate field of economics, law, and political science and has largely focused on lobbying activities as a form of market exchange between special interests and policymakers.

There are three broad theories that describe these markets for political influence and access. The first – rather cynical – theory assumes that special interest groups offer resources (such as campaign contributions, political endorsements, vote campaigns, campaign support, or future career opportunities) to policymakers in exchange for policy favours. Two alternative theories focus on the informational characteristics of lobbying. Special interest groups approach policymakers with a mix of private information and financial resources, where the latter does not buy policy, per se, but instead signals the credibility of their information.

Contrary to public misconception, the daily life of firm lobbyists is not filled with glamorous parties and smoke-filled backroom politicking where lobbyists engage in quid pro quo transactions of money for policy. Rather, these firm lobbyists focus their professional attention on honing the fine art of building relationships, primarily with members of Congress and their staffs, but also with potential clients, coalitions, and other individuals and organizations related to their clients and issue areas. The focus on relationships is reflected in the practices that fill their daily lives as they build, preserve, and then commodify these relationships.

Distinguishable from stereotypical quid pro quo arrangements of goods for policy outcomes, lobbyists would provide support to policymakers and their staff as ‘gifts’ – i.e. aimed at building solidarity and without any clear valuation or expectation of reciprocation. Rather, lobbyist participants engaged in extensive formality to frame support as gifts between political and legislative allies and friends. The general sense is that providing support in small amounts, at the ‘right’ moments, served to build trusted relationships over time to offset any inconvenience caused by taking the policymaker’s time. Fostering a gift economy, lobbyist participants would carefully provide each form of support – electoral, legislative, and personal – in order to maximize the likelihood that the support was received as a gift and minimize the appearance of a quid pro quo transaction.

In conclusion, it is demonstrated how in a ‘relationship market’ policymakers have an incentive to provide greater access to citizen-donors and lobbyists with whom they have a relationship. Recognition of the relationship market has the potential to modernize the traditional models of lobbying that envisioned lobbying as a simple quid pro quo transaction or subsidy, by incorporating the dynamics of the growth of the contract lobbyist market and including the incentives of policymakers, citizen-donors, and lobbyists as repeat players.

In other words, there is a fine line between lobbying / advocacy work and corruption. At the Integrity Initiative, we have to watch carefully that this ‘fine line’ is not transgressed.

I look forward to your reactions. Contact me at [email protected]

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