Search This Blog

Friday, July 5, 2013

Lobbying and Information: The Case of Gambling

Our chapter on interest groups stresses that lobbies gain influence by supplying information to officials. The Wall Street Journal underscores the point in a profile of Frank Fahrenkopf, retiring as head of the American Gaming Association:
Mr. Fahrenkopf's strategy was to minimize—though, importantly, not to altogether deny—the social costs that many critics had long said accompanied casino gambling expansion.
In the early years of the AGA, he began to push the young industry to fund addiction research and economic studies, creating reams of statistics that he rattled off in the halls of Congress, in statehouses and in pitches to newspapers. He has called his critics "enemies" and aggressively attacked others' research if its conclusions differed from his.
Mr. Fahrenkopf's handiwork resulted in a series of victories as his pro-gambling rhetoric and the industry's political contributions dovetailed with antitax sentiment in many states, which made gambling expansion an attractive way for states to keep their coffers filled.
In a recent interview, Mr. Fahrenkopf said that at his urging, gambling executives significantly increased their political contributions to state and federal politicians. "I indicated to them that they had to defend themselves," he said. "Our job was to have a bigger influence."
He said one of his first moves was to point to the tobacco industry as a warning not to go too far in underplaying the negative side of a product.
"I told my board at the first meeting we could not make the same mistake," Mr. Fahrenkopf said. "We knew there were some people who could not gamble responsibly."
Soon after the AGA, Mr. Fahrenkopf set up a research arm that began directing research funds to university groups—totaling $16 million since 1995. The funds have gone to researchers at top U.S. universities. The industry-funded researchers became the main editors of one of the primary academic journals on gambling, while industry executives took seats on the board of the National Council on Problem Gambling, the main national group that advocates on behalf of gambling addicts. (The AGA says the industry funding doesn't influence the outcome of the research.)
The result has been a set of tools that Mr. Fahrenkopf used to emphasize that gambling addiction affects a small portion of the population—often prompting objections from his critics.
"The research they've funded has been good research, but the question is what has been funded," said Henry Lesieur, a longtime gambling-addiction researcher and critic of industry-funded research. "They are not going to fund research that has the potential for being critical of the industry."