Research 

A Theory of Presidential Centralization and Politicization (Working Paper) 

 

While the presidential strategies of centralization and politicization have long been considered key tools for presidential influence over federal policymaking, most previous work has studied these strategies informally and/or in isolation. This paper employs a formal model of both centralization and politicization to explore the trade-offs presidents face when deciding how to create policy. The model presents several findings. First, contrary to existing literature, the president’s ideal level of politicization is not monotonically increasing in ideological distance between the president and agency, but, after initially growing, is replaced by centralization. Second, Congress can exert substantial influence on the centralization/politicization decision absent visible action and apart from altering agency ideology. Finally, even when the president is able to employ both centralization and politicization, the strategies serve as strict substitutes if both are costly. More generally, the model illustrates how the joint examination of presidential tools affects our understanding of presidential actions.

A Theory of Presidential Centralization and Politicization (Working Paper) 

 

While the presidential strategies of centralization and politicization have long been considered key tools for presidential influence over federal policymaking, most previous work has studied these strategies informally and/or in isolation. This paper employs a formal model of both centralization and politicization to explore the trade-offs presidents face when deciding how to create policy. The model presents several findings. First, contrary to existing literature, the president’s ideal level of politicization is not monotonically increasing in ideological distance between the president and agency, but, after initially growing, is replaced by centralization. Second, Congress can exert substantial influence on the centralization/politicization decision absent visible action and apart from altering agency ideology. Finally, even when the president is able to employ both centralization and politicization, the strategies serve as strict substitutes if both are costly. More generally, the model illustrates how the joint examination of presidential tools affects our understanding of presidential actions.

The Politics of Presidential Centralization (Working Paper)

 

Presidential centralization of policy creation is a surprisingly difficult to measure and understudied presidential tool, especially considering its foundational role in presidential management of the executive branch. There are no existing measures of centralization by policy area, leaving at least two major gaps in the literature: namely, how centralization varies across policy areas or how centralization and politicization relate. This paper draws empirical predictions from a formal theory that jointly models centralization and politicization and tests them using the Survey on the Future of Government Service, a large-scale survey of federal government executives. With these surveys, I introduce the first two measures of centralization by policy area to examine how presidents strategically engage in centralization and politicization. Among other results, I show that greater ideological distance between the president and an agency's careerists is associated with increased centralization. Furthermore, politicization is replaced by centralization as ideological distance grows.

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.

The Politicization of Congressional Capacity (Working Paper)

With Ben Hammond and Leah Rosenstiel

Congress has experienced an increase in dysfunction, gridlock and polarization over the past several decades. While no doubt there are numerous causes behind these maladies, we hypothesize that the politicization of congressional capacity plays an important role. By this, we mean that the funding and staffing of congressional committees has become increasingly political, instead of being based primarily upon expertise or need. This paper explores changes in committee capacity in two ways. We first examine the broader context of committee resource allocation through several decades of House and Senate disbursement reports, exploring how political considerations may influence the allocation of budget and personnel resources within Congress. Then, we propose a novel data set that uses House and Senate telephone directories to track the employment and movement within Congress of all House and Senate staffers from 1977 to 2018. We present initial results from a subset of these data and note evidence of emerging trends.

The Strategic Contexts of Presidential Centralization (Working Paper)

Presidents consider a broad array of factors when deciding when to centralize policy creation into the Executive Office of the President. This paper examines how the broader, time-variant political context affects when presidents choose to engage in centralization, based on archival research of 352 policies randomly selected from the Eisenhower through Clinton Administrations. I use these data to test predictions about centralization inspired by an original formal model of the president's centralization-politicization decision. First, I find that Congress clearly impacts the centralization decision, as presidents are more likely to engage in centralization under conditions of divided government or greater ideological disagreement with either chamber of Congress. Within the executive branch, greater centralized staff capacity is distinct from, but associated with, higher levels of centralization. I also find evidence that Republican presidents are more likely than Democratic presidents to centralize governmental reorganization efforts.