Lobbying and Agricultural Trade Policy in the United States
This paper studies whether political campaign contributions influence agricultural protection in the United States in the manner suggested by the political economy model of Grossman and Helpman (1994), using a detailed cross-sectional data set of agricultural protection, subsidies, and contributions to Political Action Committees in the late 1990s. The data do not reject the qualitative predictions of the model: that policymakers will consider both the wishes of specific lobbies and the interests of society as a whole in their decisions. However, the estimated weight of lobbying contributions in decision-making (actual policy) is found to be very low. This is a puzzle as it seems to suggest irrational behavior on the part of the lobbies that make political contributions. It is also inconsistent with the large estimates of deadweight losses from distortionary policy in agriculture. We show that the puzzle can be resolved by extending the model to allow uncertainty about the ability of politicians to deliver policy combined with the fact that contributions are made before policy is decided. The results of the analysis illustrate that the underpinnings of the prevailing political economy equilibrium that supports restrictive agricultural trade policies will be difficult to dislodge in the absence of mobilizing strong counter-lobbying to induce a more liberal policy stance. This of course is one rationale for international trade negotiations - but it requires that other groups in society see enough of an incentive to engage in the political process, pointing to the importance of the design of the negotiating agenda.
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