Choosing Battlegrounds: Interest Group Lobbying across Multiple Venues

Article excerpt

Most research on the lobbying strategies of organized interests is venue specific. Yet organized interests frequently lobby in many different kinds of institutional venues, often on a single issue. I develop and test a model of the decision to lobby in one venue over another on a specific issue. Included in the model is the impact of oppositions from opposing interests in a particular venue, a factor that has not been considered in past research. I test the model with data from interviews with lobbyists for groups that were active on the issue of financial modernization between 1997 and 1999. I find significant variation in the amount of lobbying performed by different organizations on this issue in different venues; expectations of opposition from other interests are a significant factor in the decision to lobby in a given venue.

Why does an interest group decide to lobby in one institutional venue, or set of venues, but not another? Do the lobbying strategies of allied and opposing interest groups influence this decision, and, if so, how? Too often the choice to lobby in a particular venue has been treated by scholars as a given rather than a strategic choice. Yet lobbyists themselves frequently speak of designing their advocacy strategies as if they were preparing for war, carefully selecting battlefields that play to their strengths at the expense of their enemies. The history of almost any issue reveals an ebb and flow of lobbying activity by interest groups from one venue to another. For instance, in the mid-1990s banking interests pursued efforts to reshape the nation's banking, finance, and insurance laws for the modern marketplace almost exclusively through regulatory agencies. By contrast, interest groups representing the insurance and investment industries, fearing the emergence of a new market biased toward banks, retaliated by pushing the conflict into the courts. Only after their defeat in the Supreme Court did the latter industries carry the fight to Congress. Even there, battles were fought in several lawmaking venues. Some interests concentrated on the House and Senate Banking Committees; others pinned their hopes on the House Commerce Committee and on floor action, where their opponents had less of an edge.

Models of lobbying that focus on the provision of information and other resources to lawmakers in return for influence would likely explain venue shopping simply as a decision to lobby where the group has access. But the example above suggests a more complex decision. I argue that competitiveness among interest groups shapes expectations of success and failure within an institutional venue, giving lobbyists an incentive to pick their battlegrounds with greater care than resource exchange models would suggest. Drawing on data collected from interviews with lobbyists active on the financial modernization issue from 1997 to 1999, I test a set of hypotheses regarding the impact of the presence and strength of competitor and allied interest groups on groups' decisions about where to lobby and how intensely to lobby when multiple venues are available.


Building on a foundation laid by an earlier generation of researchers (e.g., Truman 1972; Milbrath 1963; Bauer, Pool and Dexter 1963), scholars have learned a great deal about how interest groups gain access to members of Congress (Hansen 1991), target legislators in committee (Hojnacki and Kimball 1998), and build support for their positions on the floor of Congress (Smith 1984). This work has produced debates as to whether organized interests lobby unsympathetic legislators (Austen-Smith and Wright 1992; 1994) or stick with their allies (Baumgartner and Leech 1996; Kollman 1997; Leech and Baumgartner 1999). Looking beyond Capitol Hill, we know how groups lobby regulatory agencies through the filing of public comments (Kerwin 1999) and service on advisory committees (Balla and Wright 2001). …