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Credibility on Capitol Hill
June 18, 2012
New survey by GW’s Graduate School of Political Management reveals that money may be less influential in gaining access to Congress than providing reliable information.
Lobbyists and citizens alike will be more likely to get the attention of congressional staffers and members of Congress if they provide credible information than if they’ve donated money to the member, according to a study released last week by George Washington’s Graduate School of Political Management.
The study, “The Congressional Communications Report,” surveyed how people communicate with Capitol Hill.
“There are both startling and expected results in this data,” said David Rehr, the lead researcher on the study and an adjunct professor at GSPM. “Washington insiders and everyday citizens will have a clearer picture of interactions between staff in the U.S. Congress and those advocating before them on behalf of business, labor, nonprofit or cause-related organizations.”
The survey, which includes interviews with nearly 3,000 congressional staff and D.C. lobbyists, revealed that 45 percent of congressional staff reported the most important determinant for gaining access to members of Congress was providing credible and reliable information. Having an existing relationship with congressional staff or members of Congress came in as the second most important determinant at 28 percent. Around 12 percent of those surveyed said the reputation of the individual seeking the meeting with the member of Congress helped determine his or her access, while 11 percent said they valued whether the individual seeking the meeting had previously worked for a legislator.
Having a powerful reputation as a lobbyist or whether the individual’s political action committee had supported the member of Congress was an important determinant for gaining access to the member for only 2 percent of those surveyed.
“It appears that both money and a powerful lobbying ‘brand name’ matter less to members of Congress and their staff than providing reliable, consistent information,” said Dr. Rehr. “Congress is eager to receive helpful information from all sources to make thoughtful decisions, and that provides a real opportunity for citizens or professional lobbyists to influence the direction of national policy.”
The survey also found that congressional staff prefer a variety of sources when looking for information. The top five valuable sources of information for congressional staff are the Congressional Research Service (55 percent), academic or issue experts (39 percent), Congressional Budget Office (32 percent), other Capitol Hill staffers (28 percent) and federal agencies (22 percent).
The majority of congressional staff has worked on Capitol Hill for less than 10 years, whereas the majority of lobbyists have lobbied on the Hill for more than 15 years. Fifty-five percent of Hill staffers are male, whereas 62 percent of lobbyists are male.
The survey found that lobbyists value different sources for information including on-site Hill visits (34 percent), academic or issue experts (32 percent), Hill staffers (28 percent), constituents (25 percent) and other lobbyists (22 percent).
About 44 percent of lobbyists are self-identified members of the Democratic Party, while 30 percent are Republicans and 26 percent are either independent or non-affiliated.