Intergovernmental Lobbying

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In simple terms, intergovernmental lobbying involves governments lobbying other governments. The intergovernmental lobby is composed of state and local government officials’ organizations (SLGOOs), which are similar to trade associations, and single governments, for example, a city or state. These groups lobby nationally and at state and local levels of government.


The intergovernmental lobby is typically thought of in terms of the “Big Seven” government officials’ organizations in Washington, D.C., but it is more complex. Included in the Big Seven are the National Governors Association (NGA), United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), National League of Cities (NLC), National Association of Counties (NACo), International City County Managers Association (ICCMA), National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), and Council of State Governments (CSG). Each group is a policy “generalist” in that it lobbies for many programs or interests, yet there are scores of other generalist and “specialist” organizations located throughout the country that are less well known.

Policy “specialists” lobby for one or a few interrelated issues and outnumber generalists in quantity and diversity of interests. Notable specialists include the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). Despite the few studies on specialists, a good resource is provided by David S. Arnold and Jeremy F. Plant in Public Official Associations and State and Local Government: A Bridge across One Hundred Years (1994).

The last component of the intergovernmental lobby includes individual states, cities, and special governments. All states and large municipalities have lobbying offices located in the Hall of the States located adjacent to Capitol Hill. Special governments—for example, public universities or ports—may have national, state, and (perhaps) local representation.


According to Anne Marie Cammisa (1995), governments as interest groups lobby for the interests of their government, which are spatial and programmatic. Their spatial concerns, Donald Haider (1974) has argued, center on the level of government with funding control and implementation authority of programs within their geographical locale. Programmatically they are interested in flexible policies and the degree to which the federal government provides funding. While there is broad agreement among groups for increased federal funds and less federal regulation, substantial variation exists between the kinds of groups and levels of government. Generalists, for example, seek far less regulation than specialists. And specialists desire more federal provision of services while generalists want less. At the state level, Alan Rosenthal (2001) argues that county and local governments seek more state revenues, favorable tax policies, and to be left alone. Moreover, the electoral connection between national representative, state representatives, local officials, and voters makes it difficult for legislatures to act with disregard to local interests.


A useful model for understanding the decisions of where and when to lobby in our federal system is explained by the scope of conflict theory that E. E. Schattschneider (1960) presents in Semi Sovereign People. A requirement for effective lobbying is access, which Donald Haider (1974) argues is a result of their public official status, electoral connection, and policy expertise. The strategies and techniques employed by this lobby are similar to those used by other established lobbies; however, beyond the Big Seven operations, groups generally function under fiscal austerity.

Their most important lobbying function is monitoring bills; however, influencing officials is accomplished with an inside strategy, and outside techniques are almost never used. Most groups are classified as Internal Revenue Service 501(c)(3) organizations and prohibited from making campaign contributions. Congressional and federal agency behaviors include directly contacting national lawmakers, responding to requests for information, and joining coalitions. Lobbying the White House or the Office of Public Liaison (OPL) is infrequent, particularly for specialists. In federal courts, officials’ groups, states, and cities are increasingly filing amicus curiae briefs.

In the states, Clive Thomas and Ronald Hrebenar (1996) note that public officials are some of the most powerful and active in state interest group communities. Their techniques are normally direct. Anthony Nownes (1999), in Solicited Advice and Lobbyist Power: Evidence from Three American States, suggests further that public officials are often solicited for advice and gives them more opportunities to influence policy.


The environments in which the intergovernmental groups operate are nonconflictual, as they typically do not compete for members, benefits, funding, and access to lawmakers. Where there is conflict, generalists experience greater levels both inside and outside of Washington when compared to specialists. Despite some conflict, generalists and specialists report broad consensus on policy goals. Both kinds of groups also experience low opposition from public officials and other groups. Frank Baumgartner and Beth Leech (2001) report that the intergovernmental lobby was second to business and trade groups in activity across 137 issues before the 1995 Congress. In low participatory areas (niches), state and local government lobbying accounted for 24 percent of the activity in niche issues, suggesting low conflict.

Competition and consensus vary within geographic regions and across states. Evidence suggests that government groups are present and active. Virginia Gray and David Lowery (1999) report that within interest group communities, government groups constitute 16 percent of lobbying organizations. And, more specifically, Virginia Gray and Herbert Jacob (1996) note that local governments, state departments, and local government associations are continually active as lobby organizations in at least 45 states.


David S. Arnold and Jeremy F. Plant, Public Official Associations and State and Local Government: A Bridge across One Hundred Years (Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Press, 1994); Frank R. Baumgartner and Beth L. Leech, “Interest Niches and Policy Bandwagons: Patterns of Interest Group Involvement in National Politics,” Journal of Politics 63, no. 4: 1191–1213; Anne Marie Cammisa, Governments as Interest Groups: Intergovernmental Lobbying and the Federal System (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995); Suzanne Farkas, Urban Lobbying: Mayors in the Federal Arena (New York: New York University Press, 1971); Virginia Gray and Herbert Jacob, eds., Politics in the American States, 6th ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1996); Donald Haider, When Governments Come to Washington: Governors, Mayors and Intergovernmental Lobbying (London: Free Press, 1974); David Lowery and Virginia Gray, “Interest Representation in the States,” in Change and Continuity in American State and Local Politics, eds. Ronald E. Weber and Paul Brace (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Press, 1999): 241–67; Anthony J. Nownes, “Solicited Advice and Lobbyist Power: Evidence from Three American States,” LegislativeStudies Quarterly 24, no. 1 (February 1999): 113–24; E. E. Schattschneider, The Semi-Sovereign People (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960); Alan Rosenthal, The Third House, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2001); and Clive S. Thomas and Ronald J. Hrebenar, “Interest Groups in the States,” in Politics in the American States, 7th ed., eds. Virginia Gray, Russell L. Hanson, and Herbert Jacob (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1999).

Jack McGuire

Last updated: 2006

SEE ALSO: Public Officials’ Associations