Do political donors have greater access to government officials? Evidence from a FOIA field experiment with US municipalities
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Transparency, Lobbying, Field experiment, FOIA, Campaign contributions
Whether political donors have greater access to government officials is a perennial question in politics. Using a freedom of information act (FOIA) compliance field experiment with US municipalities in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania, we fail to find evidence that political donors have greater access to government officials compared to engaged citizens. We contribute to the lobbying literature by testing for preferential treatment towards political donors in municipal government. Consistent with the extant FOIA literature, we do find that a formal FOIA request increases compliance rates and decreases wait time before an initial reply. This is an important contribution because, although many polities have FOIA laws, it cannot be taken for granted that FOIA laws will lead to transparency in practice. Testing the effectiveness of FOIA laws in the US is particularly important because state laws vary substantially.