How Do Interest Groups Seek Access to Committees?


Concerns that interest groups use their financial resources to distort the democratic process are longstanding. Surprisingly, though, firms spend little money on political campaigns, and roughly 95% of publicly traded firms in the U.S. have never contributed to a political campaign. Do interest groups seek political access through their modest contributions, or are these contributions only a minor and forgettable part of the political process? In this paper, we present comprehensive evidence that interest groups are extremely sophisticated in the way they make campaign contributions. We collect a new dataset on U.S. state legislative committee assignments and legislator procedural powers from 1988–2014, merged with campaign finance data, in order to analyze over 440,000 candidate-committee observations across 99 legislatures. Using a series of difference-in-differences designs based on changes in individual legislators’ positions in the legislature, we not only show that interest groups seek out committee members, but we also show that they value what we call indirect access. When a legislator gains procedural powers, interest groups reallocate considerable amounts of money to her. The results reveal how interest groups in a wide range of democratic settings seek to influence the policy process not only by seeking direct access to policymakers but by seeking indirect access to legislative procedure as well.

American Journal of Political Science. forthcoming
Andrew B. Hall
Andrew B. Hall
Professor of Political Science

Professor of Political Science at Stanford University