5 Lessons From The SOPA/PIPA Fight


Source: Slate
Coverage Type: analysis
Location:
Washington, DC, United States

[Commentary] I think we can learn a few lessons here, many of which illustrate the main conclusions of Baumgartner et. al.'s excellent book Lobbying and Policy Change: Why Wins, Who Loses, and Why.

  1. Lobbying isn't all about money: Hollywood badly outspent Silicon Valley on this issue and still lost. This is completely typical. There's no evidence that better-funded groups systematically win policy fights.
  2. But money matters a lot: That said, it's extraordinarily difficult to get on the agenda if you don't have some money to spend. The fact that Silicon Valley firms like Google now have Washington offices and are clearly capable of offering both campaign contributions and the "legislative subsidy" of policy analysis to people who champion their causes was critical to getting opposition off the ground.
  3. In America, always bet on change not happening: To pass something, you need to run the table -- committees, two different houses of congress, the president -- while to block something you only need one stopping point.
  4. Polarization is an illusion of agenda-control: The parties are polarized in part because the leadership deliberately promotes a polarizing agenda. Leaders deliberately put issues that unite their caucuses on the agenda. When happenstance causes the agenda to be dominated by something outside the main structure of partisanship, the polarization dynamic breaks down.
  5. Public engagement matters: Members of Congress, just like regular people, only have deep commitments to a few priorities. When they suddenly learn that they've misjudged how many of their constituents care about something and which side they're on, they're happy to change positions.

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