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10 October 2006


Geoff McGovern

Laura, I look forward to reading the post! We've had some very interesting discussions so far.

Laura Hatcher

QUOTE: "Is the classification problem the result of the social scientific literature focusing too much on lobbying and too little on information production and networks?"

I think so. I also think there is a very useful literature coming out of other parts of the social sciences that might be helpful, and am preparing a post about that for later this evening. I think, also, that influence can actually be more *pervasive* if it's indirect. But that's really just a theory -- if true, though, it creates a nasty measurement problem for social scientists, partly because we don't have good descriptions of this sort of influence to theorize from.

Geoff McGovern


Great post. The statement “Interest group literature tends to focus on those groups that attempt to shape government policy through pressure on particular governmental institutions and agencies” highlights the problem of comfortably classifying Fed-Soc as an interest group (it avowedly is not a pressure group). “[The ABA] has developed internal structures that enable it to engage with Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary. The same is not true of the Federalist Society – they have not developed the structures internally that would allow them to participate in the congressional arena or the executive branch in the same manner as the ABA.” (emphasis added)

We might pause here to identify the difference in formal structures for influencing/pressuring the congressional arena or the executive branch, and informal networks that accomplish the same goals without the overt pressure. Tracey Lightcap mentions networks in her comment, and I think some productive time might be spent developing what this term means. For it seems to me that the network phenomenon at work in the Fed-Soc is both powerful and empirically difficult to analyze.

The case of Fed-Soc highlights the difference between direct pressure groups and an interested group. The latter seem to have at least two alternative ways of affecting policy: creating buzz and direct informal contact with policy-makers. As for buzz, like Cato Fed-Soc neither lobbies nor supports candidates. And yet Fed-Soc’s ideas are influential. I think this is because there is a network of Fed-Soc information consumers—HJLPP readers, conference attendees, ambitious law students looking to be well versed in a clerkship interview with one of the Fed-Soc’s sympathetic judges.

The indirect informal contacts play a different sort of role. When I was with the organization, judges, justices, Members of Congress, and the White House staff were in almost daily contact with the office to discuss various matters. These relationships likely have an affect on policy outcomes even though the outcomes are not the result of pressure.

I’m wondering if we might come up with other examples of FS-style interest groups—those that seek to engage industry professionals on political topics but refrain from lobbying. The Ripon Society comes to mind as another libertarian-minded group of professionals who sought intellectual exchange on public policy. American Constitution Society is the left’s response to the Fed-Soc, and has adopted their model of journal-conferences-networking.

An interesting question is the degree to which this Fed-Soc style interest group is limited to think-tanks. Is the classification problem the result of the social scientific literature focusing too much on lobbying and too little on information production and networks?

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