Diversity and Minority Interest Group Advocacy in Congress

Date01 March 2020
Published date01 March 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18WVmqSGWaB4cw/input 885024PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919885024Political Research QuarterlyMinta
Political Research Quarterly
2020, Vol. 73(1) 208 –220
Diversity and Minority Interest Group
© 2019 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
Advocacy in Congress
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919885024
Michael D. Minta1
This paper examines the role that racial and ethnic diversity plays in improving the legislative success of minority
interest groups. Relying on campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures to explain minority interest groups’
influence on legislators’ behavior is not sufficient, because most minority organizations are public charities, or 501(c)
(3) organizations, and as such are both banned by federal law from making candidate contributions and limited in
how much they can spend on federal lobbying. I argue, however, that the inclusion of more blacks and Latinos on
congressional committees enhances the lobbying influence—and thus the legislative success—of civil rights organizations
in Congress. Using data from lobbying disclosure reports on bills supported by black American and Latino civil rights
groups in the 110th Congress (2007–2008) and 111th Congress (2009–2010), as well as House markup data, I find that
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Leadership Conference on Civil and Human
Rights (LCCR), and UnidosUS-supported bills referred to House committees with greater proportions of racial and
ethnic minorities received more markups than did bills referred to House committees with less diversity. Diversity
is significant in predicting committee attention even when accounting for possible confounding factors, including
committee jurisdiction and the ideological composition of committee membership.
Latinos, Blacks, interest groups, Congress, lobbying, advocacy
Since the formal incorporation of blacks and Latinos into
pressure on the U.S. government through protests, peti-
the U.S. political system in the mid-1960s, civil rights
tions, and lawsuits, they are disadvantaged in the legisla-
organizations such as the National Association for the
tive arena compared with resource-rich groups. Civil
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Leadership
rights groups tend to have fewer resources, including
Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCR), and
smaller lobbying staffs and budgets, than do their profes-
UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of La Raza)
sional and business counterparts (Baumgartner and
have increased their presence and advocacy efforts in
Leech 1998; Berry 2000; Hero 1992; Schlozman 1984;
Washington. These organizations are best known for using
Strolovitch 2007). Given these disadvantages, we might
marches, boycotts, and litigation to break the system of
predict that minority groups will be unsuccessful at
racial oppression and voter suppression in the United
obtaining policy victories for minority constituents.
States (Francis 2014; Morris 1984). In the post-civil rights
Civil rights groups’ influence cannot be evaluated simply
movement era, however, they spend most of their time
using traditional measures, however. Instead, I argue that
advocating for the rights of marginalized groups directly
their success should be determined by examining whether
with federal government officials, particularly member of
greater racial and ethnic diversity in Congress leads to
greater influence for, or attention to, advocacy groups in
Engaging in traditional forms of advocacy, such as
federal policymaking. I make this argument due to the
lobbying and donating to political candidates, has proven
legal strategy civil rights organizations have employed to
successful for organizations that seek policy change in
increase their number of congressional advocates and in turn
the federal government. Groups that donate the most
money to the political campaigns of legislators and spend
1University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minneapolis, USA
the most money on lobbying usually have the most influ-
ence (Hall and Wayman 1990). Little is known, however,
Corresponding Author:
Michael D. Minta, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, 1414 Social
regarding whether civil rights groups experience similar
Sciences Building, 267 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55455,
policy success. While civil rights organizations have
been highly involved and successful at putting external
Email: mdminta@umn.edu

bolster congressional attention to their issues. Civil rights
civil rights organizations face resource deficits because
organizations have used the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to
their constituencies are the most disadvantaged due to
sue jurisdictions to create majority–minority districts that
racial and ethnic discrimination (Hero 1992). Business
increase the number of legislative advocates, or black and
organizations—whether oil and gas or Wall Street firms—
Latino legislators, in Congress (Davidson and Grofman
spend millions of dollars donating to political candidates
1994; Grofman 1998; Kousser 1999). The inclusion of
to influence public policy. Most of the money donated,
more diverse advocates in Congress enhances the lobby-
for example, by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is given
ing influence of civil rights organizations by creating a
to candidates who oppose policies favored by minority
cadre of legislators who are willing to actively champion
civil rights groups (Smith 2000).
the policy priorities of these groups and of minority con-
Although civil rights groups are barred by their public
stituents, as well as to grant them more access to the leg-
charity status from contributing to political action com-
islative process. Advocates press for key policies favored
mittees (PACs), the extant research has not demonstrated
by civil rights organizations, such as legislation that
whether this resource disparity hinders their ability to be
reduces sentencing disparities between crack and powder
successful. One of the greatest challenges in determining
cocaine or enacts harsher penalties for hate crimes.
whether groups are effective at influencing congressio-
To test the effectiveness of diversity in explaining the
nal behavior is defining influence and finding reliable
legislative success of minority interest groups, I examine
measures to capture it. For instance, decades of studies
the likelihood that the total number of bills supported and
have focused on whether donations from PACs to elec-
lobbied on by the NAACP, LCCR, and UnidosUS received
toral campaigns are significant in biasing legislators’
committee action in the U.S. House of Representatives.2
voting behavior. Although some of these studies have
Using lobbying information on bills supported by civil
found evidence that PAC contributions by organized
rights groups in the 110th Congress (2007–2008) and
interest groups in a variety of industries were successful
111th Congress (2009–2010), I find that bills supported
in getting legislators to vote in the groups’ preferred
by the NAACP, LCCR, and UnidosUS received more
direction or even participate more in committee hearings
attention when they were referred to committees with a
(Gordon 2001; Hall 1996; Hall and Wayman 1990),
greater proportion of racial and ethnic minorities than
equally persuasive studies show that PAC contributions
when they went to committees with fewer of them. The
have minimal influence (Grenzke 1989; Hojnacki and
impact of diversity is significant in predicting commit-
Kimball 2001). The major hurdle with most of these
tee attention even when other variables are taken into
studies is the difficulty in determining causality, because
organized interest groups usually donate to their estab-
lished political allies; they rarely give to or lobby unde-
Access to Policymakers, Influence,
cided legislators or political opponents (Bauer, Pool, and
and the Representation of Minority
Dexter 1963; Hall and Deardorff 2006; Hojnacki and
Kimball 1998, 1999).
Although causality is a problem encountered by studies
In order for interest groups to achieve legislative success,
that rely on PAC contributions, it is not the primary con-
they must first gain access to legislators (Hansen 1991).
cern for scholars who seek to study the influence of civil
Money is the most cited factor that provides access to
rights groups or citizen groups. Many civil rights groups
members of Congress. Groups that contribute money to
operate as both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofits, but
legislators’ electoral campaigns are more likely to gain
most of their resources and activities come from their pub-
access to members than groups that do not contribute
lic charity, or 501(c)(3), entities. Consequently, PAC con-
(Ginsberg and Green 1986; Gordon 2001; Kalla and
tributions are not the best measure to assess the influence
Broockman 2016). As a result of greater access, these
of public charities on legislative behavior, because the
groups attempt to exert influence on the legislative pro-
federal government legally bars public charities from con-
cess by getting legislators to vote in their preferred direc-
tributing to political candidates and PACs (Berry and
tion or to participate more on their issues when they come

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