Getting to Know You and Getting Your Vote: Lobbyists' Uncertainty and the Contacting of Legislators

Article excerpt

Lobbyists and legislators exchange information in a lobbying relationship. This article uses Wrights continuum of access model (1996) to analyze how lobbyists strategically seek information on the preferences of legislators. I develop hypotheses to predict which members of Congress lobbyists should contact at both the positioning and message phases of lobbying. Specifically, lobbyists should contact legislators about whom they have limited information and who can affect the organization's legislative strategy. I test these hypotheses with data on the AFL-CIOs lobbying of freshmen members of Congress from 1954-1975 and on the 1961 increase in the minimum wage. The evidence is consistent with the hypotheses. It also shows that AFL-CIO lobbyists did not use initial meetings with freshmen for the purpose of gaming access to later meetings in order to influence votes.

Uncertainty, information, and access are cornerstones of the literature on lobbying. Legislators are uncertain about the technical details of policy, constituent reactions to their issue positions, and the strategic situation in the legislature (Wright 1996; Hansen 1991). They provide access to lobbyists in exchange for this information.1 Lobbyists also face uncertainty and benefit from this informational exchange (Salisbury 1990; Carpenter, Esterling, and Lazar 2004): legislators' preferences are private information and lobbyists often do not know them (Wolpe and Levine 1996: 22-23).

Wright (1996: 76-82) offers one conception of how lobbyists decrease their uncertainty over time through a process of building relationships with legislators. Wright suggests this occurs through several stages with different information being exchanged at different times. In the "positioning phase," lobbyists introduce themselves and seek to establish access for the second phase of the relationship. During the "message phase," lobbyists provide information intended to influence legislators' behavior.

The literature has focused almost exclusively on the message phase. The informational exchange theory developed here predicts that in the message phase the legislators from wham the lobbyists need to gather information are the same as the legislators to whom the lobbyist need to give information. But, thus far, the literature has been unable to separate these two elements of the informational exchange process. The critical test of this theory, and its primary contribution to the literature, lies in whether we can develop hypotheses and collect evidence to distinguish the information-gathering versus information-delivering facets of lobbying. We attempt to make this test by examining the pattern of contacting freshmen during the positioning phase and comparing it to the contacting pattern during the message phase of lobbying on legislation.

A challenge to testing Wrights continuum model in the contemporary Congress, however, is the vast amount of information readily available on members of Congress. Congressional Quarterly and National Journal, among others, provide detailed information on freshmen to the Washington D.C. community. It also has become easier to predict members' preferences based on party identification as parties have homogenized and polarized ideologically (Rohde 1991). Thus, we will test the utility of Wright's model in an earlier era, when information on freshmen was more costly for lobbyists to obtain.

Data come from the AFL-CIO Legislative Department archives at the George Meany Center. These include the reports of AFL-CIO lobbyists on their initial meetings with freshmen members of the House of Representatives of the Classes of 1954,1956,1958,1960, and 1974. These also consist of the AFL-CIO Legislative Departments lists of members of Congress who were targeted, and a separate list of those who were lobbied, during the 1961 campaign to increase the minimum wage. These lists allow us to compare the contacting activities of the same organization, with similar populations of legislators, in two different lobbying contexts. …