Which lobbies have the greatest clout in the Indiana General Assembly?
Having observed the Legislature for 45 years, I have to say, it depends! It depends on when you ask the question. It depends on which party controls the House, Senate and Governor’s Office. And, increasingly, it depends on the issues confronting the state in a given session.
When I first began studying the General Assembly in 1969, there was widespread agreement that the groups with the greatest clout year in and year out included organized labor, the Indiana State Teachers Association, Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Farm Bureau, the trucking association and the state medical association.
This list remained relatively consistent through the late 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, varying only modestly with shifts in party control in the Statehouse. In fact, as late as 1989, the top six groups, according to a survey of legislators, lobbyists and executive branch personnel, were ISTA, the chamber, organized labor, the Indiana Manufacturers Association, Farm Bureau and the insurance industry.
Since the 1980s, the numbers of interest groups and lobbyists, the money and the tools they have to make their cases have increased dramatically.
At the same time, strong political parties remain central to our state political processes. The party that controls state government strongly affects which groups are positioned to exercise the greatest influence.
So, here we are in 2014. Republicans have controlled the Governor’s Office for nearly three consecutive terms and have quorum-proof majorities in the House and Senate. Groups like ISTA, organized labor and the trial lawyers, advantaged under Democratic control, lose influence and move into lesser roles, while well-resourced groups more aligned with the Republican Party and whose issues are ripe gain power.
That puts traditional GOP-advantaged groups, the chamber and manufacturers association among those with the greatest clout, especially given governors Daniels’ and Pence’s and General Assembly Republicans’ commitment to a business-friendly climate.
The visibility of issues, combined with GOP control, focuses efforts yielding to clout for other groups. For example, changes in the health care field driven by the Affordable Care Act (among other things) have mobilized the Indiana Hospital Association, the major hospital systems and the insurance industry, particularly big players like Anthem.
Daniels’ and Pence’s education programs have also given advantage to pro-school-choice groups (Friedman Foundation, Hoosiers for Quality Education, private and parochial schools), generally at the expense of ISTA.
Other groups that must be considered in the top tier given the current constellation of party dominance, issue prominence, and economic and state fiscal conditions are the Christian right, including Advance America and Indiana Family Institute, focusing on school choice and reproductive issues; professional sports groups as they tie facilities to regional economic development and quality of life issues; and pharmaceutical and medical device firms.
Finally, the National Rifle Association has clout built on big money and its leadership’s ability to generate fear among its passionate members.•
Hadley, a professor emeritus of political science at Wabash College, has chaired the state ethics commission and served on Gov. Evan Bayh’s legislative staff. Send comments to [email protected].