Lobbyists as Imperfect Agents: Implications for Public Policy in a Pluralist System

27 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2009 Last revised: 31 Jul 2009

Date Written: January 15, 2009


Interest group pluralism presumes that public policy outcomes are determined principally through a contest for influence among organized pressure groups. Most interest groups, however, do not represent themselves in this process. Rather, they rely on professional lobbyists for representation, information, and advice. These lobbyists are agents with their own interests, and these interests may not align perfectly with those of their clients. This essay outlines this principal-agent problem and sketches its possible implications for policy outcomes. In particular, we hypothesize that the lobbyist-client agency problem may bias policy in favor of small homogeneous groups, may exacerbate status quo bias and lead to excessive attention to symbolic issues, may promote expansive delegations to administrative agencies, and may impede systematic reforms to the policy-making process.

Keywords: administrative, law, public, policy, lobby, lobbyist, interest group

Suggested Citation

Stephenson, Matthew Caleb and Jackson, Howell Edmunds, Lobbyists as Imperfect Agents: Implications for Public Policy in a Pluralist System (January 15, 2009). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 09-12, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1331503 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1331503

Matthew Caleb Stephenson (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
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Howell Edmunds Jackson

Harvard Law School ( email )

Griswald 402
1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-5466 (Phone)
617-495-5156 (Fax)

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