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Private bills: a theoretical and empirical study of lobbying

  • Richard Boylan

    (Washington University in St. Louis)

Interest groups lobby over a variety of issues including private bills. There are two striking facts about private bills introduced in the U.S. Congress. First, several scandals have involved Congressmen who were being bribed to introduce a private bill. Second, the number of private bills introduced has drastically changed over time. A theoretical model and an econometric model are developed to explain these phenomena. In the theoretical model, when a Congressperson introduces a private bill, voters increase their belief that this Congressperson is a rent- seeker. Hence, the cost for a Congressperson in introducing a private bill is the decrease in the probability of reelection associated with the change in voters' belief about the honesty of the Congressperson. The benefit for a Congressperson in passing a private bill is the increase in votes that occurs because of providing this constituency service. Depending on the fraction of Congresspersons who are rent-seekers and the constituency service value of a private bill, the theoretical model implies that there are two different models of Congress. In the first, Congress delegates decisions to the bureaucracy and there are few private bills. In the second, Congress does not delegate decisions to the bureaucracy and there are many private bills. Which regime Congress operates under at a given point in time depends upon the fraction of Congresspersons who are rent-seekers. In the empirical work, public opinion of Congress from 1941 to 1994 is used to estimate the fraction of Congresspersons who are rent-seekers. Since in the last 50 years most private bills have dealt with immigration, public opinion of immigration measures the constituency service value of a private bill. The results of a regime switching equation are consistent with the theoretical model of two Congressional regimes and thus help in explaining the wide variability in private bills over time.

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Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Public Economics with number 9801002.

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Length: 43 pages
Date of creation: 15 Jan 1998
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwppe:9801002
Note: Type of Document - Postscript; prepared on Ultra Latex; to print on PostScript; pages: 43 ; figures: included. 43 pages, prepared with dvips
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://econwpa.repec.org

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