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Does Public Attention Reduce the Influence of Interest Groups?

Policy Positions on SOPA/PIPA Before and After the Internet Blackout


By Dr. Ulrich Matter and Prof. Dr. Alois Stutzer

In this paper, researchers investigate the role that public attention plays in determining the effect that campaign contributions funded by interests groups have on legislators’ policy positions. In so doing, we exploit the Internet service blackout of January 2012 as a quasi-experiment in which a shock increases the salience of the SOPA/PIPA bills aimed at securing stronger protection of property rights on the Internet. Using a newly compiled dataset of U.S. congressmen’s public statements, which capture their positions throughout the debate, we find an initially strong statistical relationship between campaign contributions funded by the affected industries and legislators’ positions. However, this relationship evaporates once the two bills become primary policy issues. The evidence presented is in line with the theoretical notion that legislators choose positions on secondary policy issues in order to cater to organized interests, whereas positions on primary policy issues are driven by electoral support.

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