Cities as Lobbyists

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “Cities as Lobbyists”:

AJPS - Cities as Lobbyists - (Rebecca Goldstein and Hye Young You)

Although almost all scholarship on lobbying focuses on the lobbying activities of corporations, state and local governments make up over 10% of all of the federal lobbying disclosure reports that have been statutorily mandated since 1998. Why do sub-national governments need to engage professional lobbyists to advocate for their cities and states? Focusing on cities, our paper tackles two main issues: why some cities lobby the federal government, while others do not; and whether city lobbying makes a difference in terms of federal resource allocation.

To answer these questions, we analyze a novel data set of 13,858 lobbying disclosure reports submitted by 1,262 cities with populations over 25,000 from 1999 to 2012. The cities that spent the most dollars on lobbying between 1999 and 2012 are not the large, wealthy cities that might immediately come to mind; the top five spenders were New Orleans, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Houston, and Tucson. Our analysis shows that these cities fit a distinct pattern: the cities that lobby the most are politically liberal cities situated in politically conservative states. We show that these cities have incentive to lobby the federal government because their preference for public goods is much higher than that of their parent states, which leaves them at a shortfall relative to their ideal point. We measure this public goods gap in terms of the difference in per capita expenditure between the city and its state. From both cross-sectional and panel analyses, we find that divergence of preference and its consequences for public goods provision matter: a city’s propensity to lobby the federal government between 1999 and 2012 is increasing in the city-state public goods gap.

After identifying types of cities that engage in federal lobbying, we investigate whether lobbying by local governments makes any difference in terms of federal resource allocation. We collect data on earmarks awarded to cities in fiscal years 2008 and 2009, and grants awarded from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to cities in fiscal years between 2009 and 2012. Using the existence of a direct flight from the city to Washington, D.C. as an instrumental variable, we show that a 10% increase in lobbying spending increases the awarded dollar amount of earmarks and Recovery Act grants by 10.2% and 4.7%, respectively.

This paper provides the most comprehensive information on lobbying activities by local governments yet presented in the literature. It also contributes to the understanding of how and why localities communicate their preferences to the federal government, as well as providing empirical support for the theory that some cities are systematic losers in distributive politics as a result of their geographic political preference incongruence under federalism. Finally, our paper provides empirical evidence for the returns to lobbying and shows that lobbying by local governments is an important factor affecting the allocation of federal resources.

About the Authors: Rebecca Goldstein is a PhD student in the Harvard Department of Government. Hye Young You is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. Their article “Cities as Lobbyists” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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