By Scott K. Johnson
Lobbying is ostensibly a way to inform politicians about issues affecting their constituents. But it has also become an industry of its own as those with a financial interest in legislation vie to sway decisions in their favor. Windows into the lobbying world are limited in the US, but required public reporting can at least enable a postmortem of the actions associated with major bills.
In the first two years of the Obama administration, healthcare legislation was not the only weighty proposal rattling around in Congress. The Waxman-Markey Bill very nearly led to a national cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. It would have established a continually shrinking cap on national emissions, with tradable permits required for significant emitters. It was supposed to have bipartisan appeal, featuring a market-based mechanism rather than a simple tax or mandate. But while it passed the House of Representatives, it never achieved the filibuster-proof support in the Senate necessary to see a vote on the floor.
University of California, Santa Barbara, researcher Kyle Meng and the University of Chicago’s Ashwin Rode set out to investigate the role of lobbying in that failure. What makes this so difficult is the fact that public records of who spent how much on lobbying don’t tell you whether they lobbied for or against the bill.
So the researchers got creative.