Power to the People: Checking Special Interests in California
There are two primary concerns about the role of interest groups in the policy making process. The first is that campaign contributions bias legislators votes, through a quid pro quo exchange. The second concern is that lobbyists' informal relationships with legislators conspire to produce the same legislative biases. The result has been more than four decades of reform in California, beginning with the legislative ethics code in 1966. The current reform regime does almost all it can to regulate behavior through disclosure rules and limits on gifts and campaign contributions. Interest groups play an important role in policy making and increased constraints on their activities may be counterproductive.
Future reforms should not focus on controlling legislator-lobbyist interactions, but should empower the public to become more involved in the policy process as a counterweight to interest group pressure. We propose ways to improve the usability of available government information to make the public more active in policy making and elections. Accountability and quality of policy will improve as both interest groups and interested citizens influence legislative decisions with transparent and readily available information.