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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: May 2019

3 - The Interest Group Top Tier

from Part I - Anxieties of Power, Influence, and Representation


Americans are concerned about both inequalities in political influence between the rich and poor and the dominant role of interest groups and lobbyists in Washington. Yet even among interest groups, there is vast inequality in the capacity to lobby. As the interest group population has expanded, an increasingly stable interest group “top tier” has emerged with vastly more resources. Groups in this top tier have remained at the top, even as other groups move in and out. Although resources do not guarantee influence, being at the top of the lobbying hierarchy likely enables organizations to better compete for scarce attention. We illustrate these patterns using a new data set of all 37,706 organizations reporting lobbying between 1998 and 2012. We show that an increasingly persistent top tier of 100 organizations spends roughly a third of all lobbying expenditures, hires a third of all lobbyists, and shows remarkable breadth of issue interest. The results may help resolve conflict between prior findings that the highest-spending interest groups usually get what they want, but no particular resource advantage or advocacy tactic consistently buys policy outcomes

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