Campus might be quieter in the summer, but that doesn’t mean learning was put on pause for students like Gavin Hill ’24 and Chris Runyon ’26.
Hill, a history and political science double major and Classics minor, and Runyon, a PPE major, spent a month on campus working alongside Political Science Professor Shamira Gelbman as research interns.
The two spent hours together in Lilly Library, compiling data on lobbyists following World War II. They specifically examined lobbyist registration forms following the 1946 Lobbying Disclosure Act, the first legislation of its kind aimed at bringing increased accountability to federal lobbying practices in the United States.
Gelbman’s research focuses primarily on how interest groups and social movement organizations influence American politics. Her main goal for the pair was to study how lobbyists described their work and what issues garnered the most lobbying during the post-war era.
“One thing we focused on is that this initial lobbyist regulation law lent itself to a voluntary compliance,” Gelbman explained. “The people who jumped to comply, we want to know how they described their work in these forms that were meant to provide transparency in the lobbying profession.”
Hill previously interned for the Legislative Services Agency and said he mostly understood lobbying, at least in Indiana. His knowledge expanded greatly after examining Congressional Records of 1946 and 1947 and then copying that information into a spreadsheet with Runyon as part of the internship.
“I think the most interesting thing we’ve discovered in our research is, in reality, this law that was proposed and then administered is not a very good law. It was incredibly vague,” Hill said. “There was no statute in place for how an individual had to go about filling out these lobbyist registration forms. The way they filled out their form very much depended on who their lawyers were and what interests they had.
“The definitions of what the principal purpose is for lobbying and what a lobbyist even is, made it difficult for individuals at the time to decide whether or not they were really lobbyists,” he continued. “I was under the impression that it was a much more cut and dry law in its implementation.”
Runyon said the most challenging part of the month-long internship was analyzing such a large quantity of content in a short amount of time.
“We’re probably about 40% of the way done right now, and we’ve already logged around 12,000 unique data points,” he said during the third week of the internship. “It’s a lot of data implementation.”
Runyon relied on lessons learned from Political Science Professor Scott Himsel’s EQ class to help him comb through all the records and pick out what’s most important for the data set.
“If you would have thrown these records at me in high school, I would have easily gotten overwhelmed by the volume of text,” Runyon said. “Himsel taught me how to read historical text properly. I’m now able to analyze key bits and interpret information in a way that helps us find solutions to the questions that arise throughout the research process.”
Gelbman said the skills the interns have practiced this summer will also help prepare them for their future after Wabash.
Hill, from Arlington Heights, Illinois, is focused on getting his Ph.D. in political science or history with the goal of becoming a professor. Runyon, from Brownsburg, Indiana, plans to pursue law school and is interested in criminal defense work.
“I’ve seen both Gavin and Chris really lean into the work and find connections to their future,” Gelbman said. “They’re getting a very hands-on, in-depth look at the research process and, to some extent, how historical moments are documented and the limitations of the ways in which it has been documented.
“Their ability to work together as a team, pay attention to detail, think critically, and push forward through a tedious task — those skills that come from spending just a few weeks on this kind of work will carry forward.”
Gelbman said she’s proud of the work the two put in this summer, and was excited to learn that they would like to continue conducting research as an independent study course in the fall.
“They’re thinking about taking a deep dive into the careers and activities of a few individual lobbyists in each of several categories,” she said, “those who worked on contract for a large number of clients, those who worked in-house for public interest causes, those who lobbied only on one specific bill, for example.”
Hill and Runyon plan to present their work on campus at the next Celebration of Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Work and hopefully at a professional political science conference in the spring.
“Our main goal is to put the data we collected to good use in a meaningful way,” Hill said. “At the end of the day, we can collect all this data but if we don’t understand what it means and put the pieces together, it’s just ones and zeros on a board. Having a better understanding in utilizing and analyzing data to create a product is what we look forward to most.”