Institution Advocacy and the Political Behavior of Charter Schools

Article excerpt

Scholars know that institutions such as corporations and nonprofits make up much of the lobbying community, yet there is no general theory as to why these organizations, which are not primarily established for advocacy, would ever choose to do it. By integrating the literatures on advocacy in economics, sociology, and political science, the authors propose a theoretical framework using the broad dimensions of organizational mission and external environment that they test with data on charter school advocacy from a four-state survey. The results support the authors' framework and provide greater insight into advocacy choices regarding venue shopping, tactical choices, and resource allocation.

Keywords: interest groups; charter schools; lobbying; advocacy; education

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In spite of Robert Salisbury's (1984) often-cited claim that the political advocacy landscape is disproportionately populated by "institutions," or organizations established to pursue goals other than policy change and lacking memberships in the traditional sense, there is as yet no general explanation for why such organizations choose to become politically active. If organizations such as business firms and social service nonprofits are designed to make profits or pursue philanthropy, why would they ever choose to direct scarce resources toward lobbying? Though the literature is hardly quiet regarding political engagement, most work has focused on collective action, the choice individuals make to form associations for the purpose of representation. The result is a rich literature on overcoming barriers to collective action by offering incentives (Olson 1965; Wilson 1973), reacting to threats (Truman 1951; J. M. Hansen 1985), or providing outlets for strong political feelings (Sabatier 1992). In other words, a lot of effort has gone into explaining the formation of the types of organizations Salisbury claimed are a minority in state and national lobbying communities. The literature that does exist focuses either on corporations or nonprofits, producing no general framework for understanding why institutions, including the charter schools we study, are frequently seen lobbying.

We argue that by synthesizing existing research on nonprofit behavior, the economics literature on industry advocacy, and the comparative politics and sociology literatures on politically structured opportunity, we can construct a more general theoretical explanation as to why different types of institutions are motivated to lobby. Using this integrated framework we develop a set of hypotheses that we then subject to empirical probing by analyzing the advocacy of charter schools, organizations that, though formally nonprofit, frequently take on either for-profit or missiondriven nonprofit characteristics. The results largely support our framework and, we feel, shed important new light on institution advocacy and the motivation to lobby.

Synthesizing the Literatures on Corporate and Nonprofit Advocacy

Though there is no integrative theory of institution advocacy, there are numerous studies examining why specific types of organizations choose to pursue goals through political advocacy.1 What connects these literatures is that they all deal with organizations for which providing political representation to a faction of society is not their primary reason for existence, thus differentiating them from public interest groups, trade associations, and labor unions. Yet as Salisbury (1984) saw, it is these nonmembership organizations that make up the bulk of national and, we suspect, state lobbying communities. Though they may lobby only intermittently and focus on more personal concerns rather than broad policy questions, their impact is often substantial, so it is important for us to understand their motivations toward advocacy. By focusing only on organizations with similar internal structures and goals, such as the Fortune 500 companies (e. …