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.
“A Direct Test of Legislative Gatekeeping.” [PDF]
Abstract: Tests of legislative gatekeeping theories have been hampered by the absence of status quo estimates, making these tests vulnerable to selection bias. I overcome this problem with a novel dataset on position-taking by private interests in Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, because these data record organizations’ positions on lobbied bills irrespective of whether the bills receive floor consideration. This permits an estimation of the ideological locations of status quo policies for bills with and without floor consideration, and in turn rigorous empirical tests of agenda control theories. The data provide substantial evidence of gatekeeping, and can adjudicate among specific models of gatekeeping in specific circumstances. In particular, they corroborate partisan gatekeeping in the Iowa House and the Wisconsin Assembly, and cannot distinguish between partisan and nonpartisan accounts in the other chambers. This shows how parties use legislative institutions to control the agenda, and influence the political process in lower chambers.
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.
“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.
“Issue Selection in Congressional Primary and General Election Campaigns.”
Abstract: Why do Congressional candidates chose to emphasize certain issues over others, and when will candidates change their issue emphasis from the primary to the general election campaigns? Existing theories of issue selection tend to focus on general election campaigns. This includes accounts in which issue selection is driven by the need to signal a broader preference alignment to the electorate. Moreover, while the are many formal theories of two-stage elections, they tend to assume a single-dimension on which it is either not possible or costly to flip-flop. I argue that candidates can use issue selection and issue emphasis to change their perceived position on a broad spectrum of unmentioned topics, including the main dimension of political conflict, without changing their positions on any issues. Based on this account, I derive the hypothesis that extreme primary candidates are more likely to change the issues they emphasize between the primary and general election campaigns. Using a regression discontinuity design, I test the hypothesis with data on issue mentions in campaign TV ads of candidates running for U.S. House or U.S. Senate from 2000 through 2014. I find strong support for the hypothesis among Democratic candidates. In addition, the results provide evidence that Republican moderates are more likely to change the issues they emphasize.
“Lobbying in Divided and Unified Government”, with Patricia Kirkland
Abstract: Does divided or unified government have an effect on lobbying expenditures by special interests, and does the type of governmental regime – divided government, unified Democratic government, or unified Republican government – affect the lobbying efforts of special interests who tend to be aligned with one party over another? While empirical accounts of lobbying in Congress and at the state-level emphasize that lobbying activity is not primarily driven by characteristics of the political environment, there are theoretical accounts which predict that divided government should increase aggregate lobbying, and that the “friendliness” of a governmental regime towards certain types of special interests will affect lobbying efforts. To address whether the type of governmental regime affects lobbying expenditures, we employ lobbying expenditure data from 29 states and a regression discontinuity design (RDD) that accounts for the multiple elections that produce unified or divided government. Based on our preliminary estimates, we cannot reject the null hypothesis of no causal effect of divided government on overall or corporate lobbying expenditures. While some of the preliminary estimates for labor unions, corporations, and trade groups show a decrease under unified Republican control, the results call for the inclusion of additional data as well as robustness checks ahead of a substantive interpretation of these estimates.