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Which Special Interests Get Heard?

Which Special Interests Get Heard?

Japanese politics expert Megumi Naoi explains the relationship between Japanese politicians and interest groups.

Japanese trade organizations and other "interest" or "pressure" groups can testify before the Diet, Japan's bicameral legislature, only if a Diet committee invites them to. So, argued Megumi Naoi on April 7, 2008, you can learn a lot about Japanese politics by tracking which groups the legislators choose. Naoi's talk was sponsored by the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies.

Naoi is an assistant professor of Japanese politics at the University of California, San Diego. She is particularly interested in comparative political economy. For this research project, Naoi examined legislators' complicated relationships with economic interest groups that attempt to influence decisions about international trade.

Naoi has attempted to determine when politicians are more willing to hear from locally or nationally organized economic interest groups.

"Industry groups...pursue economic interests...but politicians sometimes don't act like industry groups," Naoi said. "Sometimes they don't pursue self-interest so shamelessly."

Naoi said she recently interviewed a junior Liberal Democratic Party politician who said that legislators may avoid inviting interest groups from their own electoral districts because the political motivation of such moves is too apparent.

"The motivation for interest groups to show up to testify in these committees is to ask for money...give us subsidies, give us protection," Naoi said. "There's a strong protectionist bias."

Campaign finance rules in the late 1990s also forced individuals and groups to contribute to political parties rather than to particular politicians.

From her research, Naoi concluded that politicians are more likely to listen to local lobbyists when electoral competition is greater within their districts. When competition is greater on the national level, politicians attempt to mobilize and listen to broader constituencies, she said.