Special Interest Group Campaign Contributions Polarizing

Posted on April 28, 2011

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Jonathan Wand of Stanford University published an interesting study:

The Allocation of Campaign Contributions by Interest Groups
and the Rise of Elite Polarization

Download a PDF copy
Wand’s premise is that special interest groups (SIGs) contribute to political parties and campaigns either because they support partisan issues important to them, or invest in either side, expecting to gain favorable legislative support.

When a party/candidate is doing well in a political race, less SIG partisan money is spent and more investment money is spent on the likely candidate in other races.

In other words, SIGs don’t feel the need to spend on a partisan party/candidate who supports their interests and who is going win anyway. SIGs will also spend money on a favored party-candidate in a close race, but however will “invest” in the other side that has a clear lead when they feel that they can gain access or support later on as a result of those contributions.

My favorite quotes:

Insofar as SIGs pursue a partisan contribution strategy, these groups are helping to define the brand label that each party uses to sell itself to the electorate. As such SIGs, candidates, and ultimately journalists and voters are able to identify parties with a certain set of SIG and the policy issues they advocate. A partisan linkage between a party and a set of SIGs may help voters better hold parties responsible for the special interests they promote, but as previously noted this partisan behavior also helps to support polarization in Congress.

With contributions to incumbents it is not possible to distinguish among money given for legislative behavior which has been performed in the past, for action contemporaneous with a contribution, or for something which is contingent upon winning the next election.

The ability of groups of SIGs to underwrite a party’s electoral battle for the majority is a good reason why the majority party leaders have an incentive to use their procedural cartel to ensure the party’s legislative accomplishments adequately reward those groups most likely to help sustain their majority status in future elections.

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Posted in: Studies