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The Business of America is Lobbying: The Expansion of Corporate Political Activity and the Future of American Pluralism


Why does corporate lobbying in Washington, DC continue to expand, year after year? What are companies lobbying for, and why? And what, if anything, can the patterns of activity tell us about both the impact corporate lobbying is having and the ways in which the political economy of the United States is changing?

I argue that the modern growth of corporate lobbying reflects a path-dependent learning process. Companies may come to Washington for many different reasons, but the act of establishing an office sets in motion several reinforcing processes that make companies value lobbying more and more over time and that lead companies to become more proactive in their political strategies. Lobbyists teach managers about the importance of being politically active and help to point out (and sometimes even create) new opportunities for lobbying. Managers gain more comfort and confidence in their ability to influence outcomes, and they start to see participation as both more appropriate and more valuable. Success breeds success.

The overall effect is that American businesses, once skeptical of government, cautious about getting involved in politics, and reactive in their strategies, have now become increasingly confident, proactive, and aggressive in their lobbying efforts, and businesses are increasingly seeing government policy as not just a threat, but also as a tool. More and more companies are discovering that Washington matters to their business, and those who do are sticking around and increasing their political capacities. As a result, corporate lobbying activity is likely to continue to expand for the foreseeable future, with large corporations playing an increasingly central role in the formulation of national policies.

My findings are based on original interviews with 60 corporate and trade association lobbyists and complete lobbying histories of every company in the S&P 500 between1981 and 2005. This dissertation combines both rich qualitative descriptions and rigorous large-N data analysis.

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