It’s been my pleasure to guest blog this week on the topic of grassroots lobbying regulations. In the four previous posts, I’ve summarized the lessons from Mowing Down the Grassroots: existing lobbying regulations in 36 states are so broad as to cover situations in which individuals or groups communicate to other citizens about public issues (i.e., grassroots lobbying) and such regulations have costs that have gone largely unrecognized.
The traditional rationales for regulating lobbyists – corrupting or buttonholing public officials — do not apply to grassroots lobbying; instead, states have asserted a right to know “who is speaking” for the furtherance of the “integrity of democracy.” I leave for others to debate whether such a purpose is a legitimate reason to burden political speech, association and the right to petition.
The claim that political reforms are critical to preserving the integrity of democracy has been made by reformers of all stripes; whether referring to term limits, public financing, disclosure laws, voter identification, ballot access, etc., proponents frequently assert that their pet issue is crucial to this goal. However, these claims are rarely put to the test, which brings our discussion back to my world of social science research.
The phrase “integrity of democracy” sounds great, but it must mean something concrete to be testable. A common operational definition is the public’s trust and confidence in government; that’s the wording one sees in statements of legislative intent for campaign finance and lobbying laws, and that is the sense in which many political scientists have studied the issue. Since we can measure public trust and confidence in surveys, this permits us to put reformers claims to the test.
So does mandatory disclosure of grassroots lobbying increase public confidence or for the matter do lobbying regulations in general? I don’t know; no [...]