• 18 Nov 2011
  • Working Paper

The Dynamics of Firm Lobbying

by William R. Kerr, William Lincoln & Prachi Mishra

Executive Summary — Lobbying is a primary avenue through which firms attempt to change policy in the United States, with total expenditures outnumbering campaign contributions by a factor of nine. While lobbying by businesses is a frequently debated issue, there has been little systematic empirical evidence on these behaviors at the firm level. This paper is one of the first to begin to fill this gap. To do so, the researchers constructed an empirical model of lobbying behavior of publicly traded, US-headquartered firms between 1998 and 2006. They also looked in depth at a specific policy shift that has been the subject of significant public debate: the dramatic decline in the limit on H-1B visas that occurred in 2004. Findings show that the decline in the limit on H-1Bs did not induce new firms to lobby that were not previously lobbying on other issues. The decline did, however, significantly shift lobbying resources towards high-skilled immigration issues amongst firms that had lobbied previously for other issues. Moreover, the manner in which this shift occurs among firms already lobbying indicates little constraint on adjustments across issues important for firms. Key concepts include:

  • Few firms lobby, even among publicly traded firms, only 10 percent of the firms in this sample.
  • Lobbying is strongly related to firm size — larger firms participate more than smaller ones.
  • The probability that a firm lobbies in the current year given that it lobbied in the previous year is 92 percent.
  • Up-front costs associated with beginning to lobby may be a deterrent for firms that do not lobby.
  • The persistence induced by these costs likely allows firms and politicians to be able to predict what groups will work to support or oppose various policy changes. Moreover, stability in this relationship between government and firms may induce persistence in political and economic institutions or raise the prospects of regulatory capture.

Author Abstract

We study the determinants of the dynamics of firm lobbying behavior using a panel data set covering 1998-2006. Our data exhibit three striking facts: (i) few firms lobby, (ii) lobbying status is strongly associated with firm size, and (iii) lobbying status is highly persistent over time. Estimating a model of a firm's decision to engage in lobbying, we find significant evidence that up- front costs associated with entering the political process help explain all three facts. We then exploit a natural experiment in the expiration in legislation surrounding the H-1B visa cap for high-skilled immigrant workers to study how these costs affect firms' responses to policy changes. We find that companies primarily adjusted on the intensive margin: the firms that began to lobby for immigration were those who were sensitive to H-1B policy changes and who were already advocating for other issues, rather than firms that became involved in lobbying anew. For a firm already lobbying, the response is determined by the importance of the issue to the firm's business rather than the scale of the firm's prior lobbying efforts. These results support the existence of significant barriers to entry in the lobbying process.

Paper Information