Academic journal article International Social Science Review

The Role of Lobbying on Legislative Activity When Lawmakers Plan to Leave Office

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

The Role of Lobbying on Legislative Activity When Lawmakers Plan to Leave Office

Article excerpt

Introduction

In recent years, the U.S. House of Representatives has become less active legislatively. House members are not only submitting fewer bills, they are also enacting fewer laws. One group not experiencing this decline in legislative activity are those members of the House who are serving out their last term and who plan to become lobbyists. This study examines the legislative activity of 623 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who left office between 1976 and 1998. The data shows that the legislative activity of exiting members of Congress can be explained by the member's previous legislative history, the legislative activity of both the last and next to last Congress that the member served in, and whether the Representative left the House to pursue a lobbying career. Those who left the House to become lobbyists remained significantly more active than those who did not. This is particularly true among those House members who left public life under their own volition as opposed to those having been voted out of office or having sought higher office. In other words, those who retired voluntarily were better situated to exploit their last term in office as opposed to those who were defeated in their reelection bid or sought higher office. This study thus suggests that public policy can be affected by a member's post-congressional ambition, that is, lobbying career choice, particularly when members of Congress who leave the House voluntarily are no longer constrained by the electorate.

Legislative Activity and the Last Term in Office

Legislative activity simply refers to the number of bills introduced by House members. In recent years, the number of bills introduced by House members has declined significantly. Figure 1 shows the decrease in bill sponsorship for each Congress beginning with the 93rd Congress (1973-1974). (1) The figure clearly shows a significant reduction in legislative activity. Specifically, the number of bills introduced during the 107th Congress is only a third of the number introduced during the 93rd Congress.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Unfortunately, little research has been done on the legislative activity of members of Congress as they serve out their last term. Much of the literature concerning legislative activity tends to focus on roll-call voting and agenda-setting, or even cosponsorship of bills. (2) Members of Congress sponsor bills for a variety of reasons. They sponsor legislation to send signals to fellow members of Congress and to members of the executive branch. Lawmakers also sponsor legislation to send signals to non-governmental actors. Furthermore, members of Congress sponsor legislation to attract media exposure either for themselves or for issues that they care about. Members of Congress might also sponsor bills to send signals to their constituents and to interest groups. (3) It is the last of these reasons that is important for the purpose of this study. While this study does not analyze the substance of the bills, it looks at the number of bills that are introduced. In so doing, it seeks to identify the relationship between legislative activity, the use of bill sponsorship, and future career goals of exiting members of Congress.

Unlike their counterparts who will remain in public life, exiting members of Congress can pursue agendas and career goals free from voter constraints. This is significant because the American legislative branch was designed to curtail the ambitions of its members. The framers of the U.S. Constitution saw the electoral system as a mechanism to constrain ambition.' They saw the electoral system as the mechanism by which the Representative would be dependent on the electorate. According to the author of Federalist 52, "Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured." (5) Members of Congress would be constrained to act on behalf of their constituents or else risk defeat in the next election. …

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