Research

“Moderation or Strategy: Political Giving by Corporations and Trade Groups.” [PDF] [Appendix]

Abstract: Do bipartisan contributions by corporations and trade associations reflect strategic considerations or ideological moderation? In this paper, I leverage lobbying disclosures in Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin to provide a new measure of ideology that allows me to adjudicate between the two accounts. These states’ legislatures permit or require lobbyists to declare their principals’ positions on lobbied bills. I combine these data with roll call votes to estimate the ideal points of legislators and private interests in the same ideological space. I find that the revealed preferences of most corporations and trade groups are more conservative than what would be implied by their contribution behavior. The discrepancies are particularly acute for high-level contributors. This shows that a moderate contribution record need not imply moderation in policy preferences. Thus, such interests may not reduce polarization overall. Further, the divergence between contribution and position-taking behavior indicates that many business interests employ sophisticated strategies to influence public officials whom they disagree with.


“Measuring the Ideology of Private Interests: Evidence from Lobbyist Declarations in Three States.” [PDF] [Appendix]

Abstract: What are the ideological positions of private interests? Valid measurements of interest group and legislator preferences on the same scale enable a closer examination of the role of private interests in the legislative process. In this paper, I exploit lobbying disclosure requirements in Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin to provide a new measure of interest group ideology. These states’ legislatures either permit or require lobbyists to declare their principals’ positions on lobbied bills. I combine these data with roll call votes and candidate survey responses to estimate, via an item-response model, the ideal points of legislators and interest groups in the same space. Although the interest groups’ position-based ideal points correlate strongly with contribution-based measures, there is more extremism in the former, which is primarily driven by conservative-leaning groups. In addition to providing a new measure of interest group ideology, the analysis suggests that private interests, including corporations and trade groups, cannot be ruled out as a source of partisan polarization.


“A Direct Test of Committee Gatekeeping.” [PDF] [Appendix]

Abstract: What is the nature of agenda control in legislatures? Tests of canonical theories of gatekeeping have been limited to analyses of bills that make it through committees and are sent to the floor, making these tests vulnerable to selection bias. I overcome this problem with a novel dataset drawn from three US state legislatures (Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin) that record interest groups’ positions on the bills on which they lobby lawmakers. This permits a first-ever estimation of the ideological locations of status quo policies for bills that die in legislative committees, and in turn rigorous empirical tests of agenda control theories. Unsurprisingly, I find that many bills are introduced even though they are very likely to die in committee, suggesting either uncertainty or pure position-taking by sponsors. The data provide substantial evidence of legislative gatekeeping, but can only adjudicate among different theories of gatekeeping in specific circumstances. Specifically, they corroborate partisan gatekeeping in the Iowa House and the Wisconsin Assembly, but cannot distinguish between partisan and non-partisan accounts in the Iowa Senate, the Wisconsin Senate, or the Nebraska Legislature.


“Campaign Contributions by Private Interests: Tests of Ideological and Access Motivations.”

Abstract: What are the determinants of PACs’ contributions and when do they contribute strategically? Measuring the ideology of private interests using lobbyist declarations (see above) provides a measure of preference proximity between these interests and legislators that is not directly based on campaign contributions. I combine these measures with data on campaign contributions and legislator covariates to analyze the extent to which similar policy preferences, as opposed to non-spatial characteristics determine PACs’ contributions to candidates. I find that contributions by corporations and trade groups are motivated by access to legislators who lead relevant committees, but not by ideological proximity. In addition, I find that corporations and trade groups contribute to seek direct access to legislators who they disagree with ideologically. Moreover, the results show that ideological and single-issue groups, labor unions, as well as professional groups exhibit ideological motivations in their contribution behavior. The results imply substantial heterogeneity in the motivations of organizations to contribute and caution against using the contribution behavior of many corporations and trade groups to estimate these interests’ ideological positions.