What Political Insiders Think of the Lobbying Trade

December 09, 2013, 5:20 PM GMT+0

While Democratic and GOP Insiders often strongly disagree on the performance of political figures or the prospects for particular policies, they can often agree on process-related questions.

Insiders were also asked about their perceptions of lobbying.

On the questions regarding lobbying, Democratic and Republican Insiders were in broad agreement on a number of issues. Clear—sometimes huge—majorities in both parties agreed that: all organizations should have a right to lobby Members of Congress; lobbying is an important part of the democratic process; most lobbyists adhere to professional standards; and that in general, most lobbyists provide true and accurate information.

Democratic and Republican Insiders strongly disagreed on whether the regulation of lobbyist registration should be more strongly enforced: 65% of Democratic Insiders thought that it should, while only 38% of GOP Insiders concurred. (Among Democratic Insiders, 30% disagreed with that proposition and 27% said they neither agreed nor disagreed with the idea. Among GOP Insiders, 20% disagreed and 12% were neutral.)

On three other lobbying topics, the partisan views diverged, but not so dramatically. Asked whether the professional standards of lobbyists are rigorous enough, a plurality of Republican Insiders said they were and a plurality of Democratic Insiders said they weren’t.

Near majorities in both parties—48% of Democratic Insiders and 49% of GOP Insiders—agreed that in general, the professional standards of lobbyists are improving. But a sizeable 30% of Democratic Insiders disagreed compared to only 14% of Republican Insiders who felt that way. The rest of the Democratic and GOP Insiders neither agreed nor disagreed that lobbyists’ standards were improving.

On the question of how pellucid is the lobbying biz, Insiders in both parties had their doubts. A solid 55% majority of Democratic Insiders said they disagreed with the proposition that “the lobbying process in the U. S. is generally transparent,” while 30% agreed and 12% were neutral. Republicans were ambivalent: 40% agreed that lobbying was generally transparent, but 19% disagreed and 39% neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement.

What to make of these numbers? I think you could say they reflect a basic bi-partisan vote of confidence by political elites for the lobbying process with a few caveats. Democratic Insiders are more skeptical on some key points like the oversight of lobbying registrations and the transparency of lobbying. This may reflect philosophical differences between the two parties with Democrats being the more inclined towards stronger regulation as a way to protect the public interest.

One thing these responses don’t seem to reflect is self-interest. Among the Democratic Insiders who responded to this survey, 28% listed their occupation as a lobbyist or someone who primarily works in government affairs. Only 22% of Republican Insiders identified themselves that way. Of course, one could argue that there are a higher percentage of Democratic Insiders who have seen the lobbying business from the inside.

When it comes to assessing the importance of different inputs to a congressional office, there was high level of agreement among political insiders, both Democrats and Republicans. Asked to rate how valuable different kinds of information were to a Member’s office on a scale of 1-to-5 (5 being very valuable, 1 being not valuable), there was a general bi-partisan consensus on most items.

For instance, Insiders in both parties gave identical average scores to: “non-partisan issue experts (i.e., think tanks like Brookings, academics),” 3.1; “coalitions put together on a particular issue,” 3.5; “Fortune 500 CEOs,” 3.6; and “consumer groups,” 3.0. They shared similar feelings towards: “lobbyists,” D’s, 3.2, R’s 3.4; “partisan experts (i.e., Heritage, Center for American Progress),” D’s 2.8, R’s, 3.1; “local business owners or company representatives,” D’s 4.0, R’s 4.3; “Fly-in of many constituents at once to Washington, D.C.,” D’s 3.4, R’s 3.5; “reports from staff in the Member’s state or district office,” D’s 3.8, R’s 4.0.

The only two topics on this list of valuable sources of information where Insiders diverged a bit were: “trade associations,” D’s 3.1, R’s 3.6; and “local constituents individually contacting an office,” D’s 3.5; R’s 4.0.

These results remind us that while Democratic and GOP Insiders often strongly disagree on the performance of political figures (Obama, Boehner, etc.) or the prospects for particular policies, they can often agree on process-related questions. It’s also worth remembering that as it relates to political figures and policies, most political Insiders just sincerely hold different world views: that’s why they call themselves either a Democrat or a Republican.

-- James A. Barnes

James A. Barnes is a veteran Washington journalist who created the National Journal Political Insiders Poll and conducted elite surveys for CNN during the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest. The YouGov Political Insiders Survey is comprised of interviews with leading players in political and policy campaigns in Washington D.C. and around the country.

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