Does Money Buy Congressional Love? Individual Donors and Legislative Voting (Published in Congress & The Presidency 46(1): 1-27) 

With Brandice Canes-Wrone


Despite the popular belief that campaign contributions affect policymaking, study after study has suggested that legislative voting is unaffected. We reexamine this question by focusing on the increased dominance of individual contributors. Using data on roll calls associated with the Congressional Cooperative Election Study, we test for senators’ responsiveness to their parties’ national donor class. Several findings emerge. First, responsiveness to national donor opinion is significant, even controlling for the effects of in-state constituents, affluent citizens, activists, senator ideology, and a senator’s personal donors. Moreover, the results hold in specifications that account for the endogeneity of national donor opinion to legislative votes. Second, and consistent with scholarship that argues fundraising is increasingly important for party leadership positions, the relationship depends on the ideological favorability of a state to a senator’s reelection. Also consistent with this perspective, responsiveness to donors is unrelated to a senator’s wealth, time to reelection, or seniority.

New Directions in Veto Bargaining: Message Legislation, Virtue Signaling, and Electoral Accountability
(Published in The SAGE Handbook of Research Methods in Political Science and International Relations, eds. Luigi Curini and Robert J. Franzese. London: SAGE. 224-243)
With Charles Cameron

In this essay, we focus on the mysterious. And, we offer some suggestions on how to make the murky more transparent. First, we briefly review the basic structure of the separation of powers (SOP) models, focusing on the veto bargaining and filibuster-oriented versions. Then, we note the rise of several puzzling phenomena. Among these are what we dub the missing or hidden vetoes, the anomalous filibusters, frenetic failed legislation, ostentatiously illegal executive orders, and even futile impeachment efforts. We trace all these phenomena to a single cause: the desire of political agents to send a credible signal to political principals about their dedication and fanaticism, using the procedures of the SOP system. In other words, they are all variants or consequences of what Frances Lee, in a seminal contribution, has called “messaging legislation” in the congressional context (Lee 2016). With one exception—Groseclose and McCarty’s prescient explication of “blame game vetoes” —the first-generation SOP models do not accommodate (and say nothing about) messaging-oriented manipulation of SOP policymaking procedures.  We assert, however, that if such models are suitably modified, the veto bargaining, pivotal politics, and related models can make room for such an account. To illustrate our point, we sketch a simple model which embeds a stripped-down veto bargaining game within an accountability model. We conclude with some observations about going forward, and about the current state of American politics.

Developments in Congressional Responsiveness to Donor Opinion 

(Published in Can America Govern Itself? eds. Frances E. Lee and Nolan M. McCarty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 69-92)

With Brandice Canes-Wrone

Opinion polling suggests heightened public concern about the role of money in politics.  Yet within the academic literature, there is little evidence that campaign contributions influence congressional roll call voting.  This chapter makes use of the 1988–1992 Senate Study of the American National Election Studies and recent waves of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to investigate the possibility of change over time in the relationship between individual donors’ preferences and senators’ votes on a set of recurring issues. The analyses reveal a significant association between donor opinion and roll call voting over the past decade but not in earlier years. Additionally, the findings suggest that the impact of donor opinion is greater as the electoral environment becomes more favorable to a senator’s reelection. The 1988–1992 electoral environments were typically competitive, however, contributing to the negligible overall effect of donor opinion in these years. This evidence of a conditional impact suggests that policy reforms could affect the relationship between contributions and policymaking.