How Do Interest Groups Seek Access to Committees?
44 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2016 Last revised: 8 Feb 2016
Date Written: February 5, 2016
Concerns that interest groups use their financial resources to distort the democratic process are longstanding. Empirical research shows that interest groups seek access to legislators through their campaign contributions, but the literature is limited in its focus on direct access to relevant committee members in a static institutional environment. If interest groups value committees, we argue, then they should also value indirect access, that is, access to those who make committee assignments and to those who set the procedural rules of the legislature. We collect a new dataset on U.S. state legislative committee assignments from 1988–2014, merged with campaign finance data, in order to analyze over 300,000 candidate-committee observations across 99 legislatures. Using a difference-in-differences design based on changes in individual legislators’ positions in the legislature, we show that interest groups value direct access to policy relevant committees, but we also show that they value indirect access. When a legislator gains procedural powers, interest groups reallocate considerable amounts of money to her. We take advantage of the institutional variation in the U.S. states to validate this indirect access hypothesis in several additional ways. Taken together, the results reveal how interest groups in a wide range of democratic settings seek to influence the policy process not only by seeking direct access to policymakers but by seeking indirect access to legislative procedure as well.
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