Psst, wanna change the law? Lobby this little-known government office after it’s passed.

Psst, wanna change the law? Lobby this little-known government office after it’s passed.
by Simon F. Haeder and Susan Webb Yackee, Monkey Cage

When Americans think about lobbying, they usually think about lobbying legislatures. Take the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According the Center for Responsive Politics, the ACA was one of the most lobbied bills in Congress over the last decade with more than 1,250 organizations registered on more than 5,000 issues.

But what’s missing from this discussion are the hundreds of groups that lobbied an obscure office in the White House to influence the regulations implementing the ACA: the President’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Since the 1960s, the meat of policymaking has steadily shifted from crafting statutes to writing and issuing regulations — and both the news media and a great deal of academic scholarship seems to have missed that shift.

Yet how a law is put into practice can matter almost as much as whetherthere’s a law at all. We’ve recently seen examples of the power of executive-branch rules and regulations in everything from Obama’s attempt to change immigration policy to the provision of ACA subsidies that led to the recent Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell. For example, the Dodd-Frank legislation, which passed in the aftermath of the Great Recession, contained more than 300 provisions that required or authorized new agency rulemaking.

In a forthcoming study in the American Political Science Review, we uncover suggestive evidence that when interest groups lobby OIRA, they influence the legally binding regulations that result. Specifically, we find that when groups send a consistent message to OIRA officials, that rule is more likely to change.

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