The Interest Group Top Tier: More Groups, Concentrated Clout

36 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2014

See all articles by Lee Drutman

Lee Drutman

Sunlight Foundation

Matt Grossmann

Michigan State University

Tim LaPira

James Madison University

Date Written: 2014


Recent research on influence has produced seemingly contradictory findings. On the one hand, some scholars have shown that on any given issue, economic resources show little relationship to the likelihood of policy success (Baumgartner et al. 2009). Yet, other scholars have found that policy outcomes match the preferences of the top interest groups and the well-off much better than the average citizen (Gilens 2012). This paper offers an empirical resolution to this puzzle by closely examining the advocacy activities of the top tier of interest groups in Washington. As the total population of interest organizations has increased beyond the capacity of the government to pay attention to all of them, the select few at the top — mostly business interests — have concentrated their resources toward maintaining their privileged status as major players. Using a new data set of 37,706 unique interest groups who reported lobbying between 1998 and 2012, we show that the organizations at the top in lobbying expenditures, number of lobbyists, and number of firms and staff, increasingly retain their privileged positions — but need to pay more to do so. We document lobbying activity trends for those organizations at the top of the extremely unequally distributed lobbying population. We find that organizations at the top in one year pay more to stay at the top each successive year, even if that means shifting their issue agenda to whatever is on the minds of Congress.

Suggested Citation

Drutman, Lee and Grossmann, Matt and LaPira, Timothy M., The Interest Group Top Tier: More Groups, Concentrated Clout (2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Lee Drutman

Sunlight Foundation ( email )

1818 N Street NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Matt Grossmann (Contact Author)

Michigan State University ( email )

Agriculture Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824-1122
United States

Timothy M. LaPira

James Madison University ( email )

91 E Grace St
MSC 7705
Harrisonburg, VA 22807
United States
5405685309 (Phone)


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