Legislators as Lobbyists

AuthorHye Young You,Melinda N. Ritchie
Date01 February 2019
Published date01 February 2019
DOI: 10.1111/lsq.12221
University of California, Riversi de
New York University
Legislators as Lobbyists
Public policy is produced by elected and unelected officials and through
the interactions of branches of government. We consider how such interactions
affect policy implementation and representation. We argue that legislators try
to influence bureaucratic decisions through direct communication with federal
agencies, and that such contact is effective and has consequences for policy out-
comes. We provide empirical evidence of this argument using original data about
direct communication between members of Congress and the U.S. Department
of Labor (DOL) along with decisions made by the DOL regarding trade and
redistributive policies. We find that direct contacts influence DOL decisions, and
the agency is more likely to reverse previous decisions when requested to do so
by legislators. Our results challenge key assumptions and findings in the previous
literature and have important implications for interbranch relations and informal
means of control over the implementation of national policy.
My constituents don’t need a go-between to get my atte n-
tion. Why do you waste your money on a lobbyist when I’m
being paid to be your sen ator? I was for anything that bene-
fits West Virgini a, and I was always going to be supportive.
(Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), 1989)
The conventional understa nding of representation focuses on
the relationship betwe en legislators and their constitu ents. Yet, pub-
lic policy is made and implemented by both ele cted and unele cted
official s and through the inter actions of institutions and branches
of government. Congress, for example, is de pendent on federal
agencies to imple ment legislation (Dodd and Schott 1979; Eskridge
and Ferejohn 1992; Lowi 1969), but agencies also have the incentive
to build support among the m any diverse intere sts within Congress
to safeguard thei r budgets and programs (Arnold 1979; Carpenter
© 2018 Washing ton University in St. Louis
66 Melinda N. Ritchie and Hye Young You
2001; Fiorina 1977). Does this i nterdependent relationship inf luence
policy outcomes and, consequently, the quality of repre sentation?
The question of whether repre sentatives in Congre ss are re-
sponsive to constituents al so depends on the re sponsiveness of
bureaucrats to legi slators. However, previous literature has largely
focused on a single i nstitution in isolation and less on how the in-
teractions or li nkages betwe en institutions effe ct representation.1
One critical r eason for this oversight is the diffi culty of establishing
the linkage s between elected off icials, federal agencie s, and output.
The ability to est ablish such lin kages is import ant for eval-
uations of representation a nd democratic ac countability. The
federal bureaucra cy has a wide-re aching role and dis cretion in
the policyma king proces s. Policy is now overwhelmingly m ade
through agency reg ulation more than through st atute (Warren
2004). Moreover, policies are often complex, requir ing several
agencies, levels of government, and programs in order to b e fully
promulgated as intended. T his presents a c ostly but critical ch al-
lenge for our understanding of how the inter actions betwee n in-
stitutions affect representation but also the abil ity of citizens to
hold elect ed off icials a ccount able.
In this art icle, we take a step toward advanci ng the study of
these complex li nkages using novel data that allow us to study the
links bet ween electe d official s, agency behavior, and policy out-
comes. We examine, f irst, whether member s of Congress dir ectly
lobby the bureaucracy to repre sent their constituents. Second,
we evaluate agency respon siveness to legislators’ re quests.
Examini ng these lin kages allow us to te st theoretical arg uments
about interbranch interact ions and representation.
We theorize about the role of direct c ommunication within
the interdependent relationship between leg islators and agencies.
Legislators act as lobbyist s for their constituencies by repre senting
their distr ict’s and state’s interests through d irect communication
with agencies. Agencies have an incentive to respond favorably
to legislators bec ause they want support in C ongress to protect
their budgets and pr iorities. Agencies a lso want to avoid anger-
ing legislators by appear ing unresponsive. Thus, agencies favor
legislators who signal strong preferences over decisions made by
the agency via di rect contact. Con sequently, this interdepe ndent
relationship affect s policy outcomes, advantaging intere sts repre-
sented by legislators’ conta ct with agencie s.
Using original dat a we obtained by submitti ng Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) requests, we offer systemati c evidence of

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