Buying Representation: The Incentives, Ideology, and Influence of Campaign Contributors in American Politics.

Barber, Michael Jay [Browse]
176 p. ; 29 cm.


Summary note
  • One of the foundational principles of a democratic government is that representatives do as their name implies -- represent their constituencies. In defending the Constitution of the United States, Publius emphasized the need for representation in the legislature by saying, " First. As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people " (Federalist 52). However, " the people " is a much more complicated term than one might initially think. Representatives must consider a variety of constituencies as they go about their work. These different groups clearly weigh in the mind of a representative with varying degrees of importance.
  • I suggest that one group that exerts a great deal of influence over the political process is campaign contributors, and that their influence is due to the importance of fundraising in the electoral process. Yet, donors have received far less attention from legislative scholars than their potential influence warrants. In this dissertation, I investigate the strength of this financial connection and the degree to which political donations are influencing representatives in Congress and state legislatures.
  • The second chapter investigates the motivations of donors and shows important differences in why people or organizations support candidates financially. Understanding why donors give money is vital for developing accurate hypotheses of how money may influences politics, yet we still know little about why donors choose to give. In this paper I present theories of why political action committees (PACs) and individuals, the two largest sources of campaign money, contribute to political candidates. PACs are primarily motivated by a desire to gain access to legislators and the legislating process while individuals are primarily motivated by ideological considerations. Additionally, a subset of PACs whose interests align with the parties' positions are interested in both. I test these theories using a variety of data and identification strategies. Using an original survey of donors in the 2012 election cycle, I show that individuals consistently rank ideological concerns as most important when deciding who to contribute to. Furthermore, using contribution records and election results, I show differences between individual and PAC contribution patterns. Finally, using two different within-legislator designs, I show a causal relationship between access, ideology and contributions. These results provide the most direct and comprehensive test of contributor motivations to date.
  • The third chapter considers how these different motivations translate into influence over legislator's behavior in office. In this paper, I show that legislators reflect the ideological preferences of those who fund their campaigns--ideologically motivated individual donors and access-oriented political action committees (PACs). Legislators who raise more of their money from individuals tend to be more ideologically extreme. To untangle the causal direction of this relationship, I show that limits on campaign contributions, which exogenously alter a candidate's ability to raise money from certain types of donors, affect the ideologies of legislators in office. Using an original dataset of campaign contribution limits in the states over the last 16 years, I exploit variation across states and within states over time to show that higher individual contributions lead to more extreme legislators, while higher limits on contributions from PACs yield more ideologically moderate legislators. These results suggest that campaign contributions come with ideological strings attached and that legislators represent the ideologies of their donors. The connection between donors and recipients is an important part of the story of the polarization of American legislatures.
  • The fourth chapter focuses further on the connection between the preferences of individual donors and the voting behavior of U.S. Senators. This chapter addresses this question by investigating the degree of ideological congruence between the preferences of senators and three constituent subsets---donors, co-partisans, and registered voters. To estimate the preferences of these groups I use a large survey of voters and an original survey of campaign contributors that samples both in- and out-of-state contributors in the 2012 election cycle. I find that senators' preferences reflect the preferences of the average donor better than any other group. Senators from both parties are slightly more ideologically extreme than the average co-partisan in their state. Finally, senators' preferences diverge dramatically from the preference of the average voter in their state. The degree of divergence is nearly as large as if voters were randomly assigned to a senator. These results show that in the case of the Senate, there is a dearth of congruence between constituents and senators---unless these constituents are those who write checks and attend fundraisers.
Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 76-03(E), Section: A.
Dissertation note
Ph.D. Princeton University 2014
Dissertation Abstracts International 76-03A(E).
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