Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Are Agricultural PACs Monolithic? an Empirical Investigation of Political Contributions from Agricultural Subsectors

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Are Agricultural PACs Monolithic? an Empirical Investigation of Political Contributions from Agricultural Subsectors

Article excerpt


There is a wealth of literature suggesting that politicians provide political favors to parties that offer them financial contributions (Tripathi, Ansolabehere, and Snyder 2002; Becker 1983). Political Action Committees (PACs), for example, enable people to concentrate donations to further a common interest (van Doren, Hoag, and Field 1999; Taylor 2003). To the unfamiliar, "agriculture" might seem to be a group with common interests. Starting with Thomas Jefferson, and still supported by essayists like Wendell Berry, there is an "Agrarian Ideology" that romanticizes and protects a farm culture (Browne et al. 1992; Hamlin and Shepard 1993). However, one does not have to scratch very deep to see that there are disparate interests among its many constituents. Cattle and poultry producers, for example, may not prefer programs that prop up corn prices, and ethanol producers might support sugar embargos.

Although there is strong evidence that PACs will allocate their contributions to buy access to politicians (Tripathi, Ansolabehere, and Snyder 2002), there is little evidence about whether agricultural PACs cooperate to buy the same things. On one hand, the nature of a PAC is to advocate a partisan interest, and the interests in agriculture can be diverse. "The Making of the 1996 Farm Act," for example, described several instances where interests conflicted (Schertz and Doering 1999). Commodity programs competed with each other, as well as food programs, for budget allocations, and cotton and rice interests were reluctant at first to agree to the Freedom to Farm legislation. Over the past few decades, livestock producers mounted little resistance to programs that boosted crop prices, even though they would have to pay more for feed and receive very little Federal support relative to crop producers.

However, there are several reasons to believe that agricultural PAC's partisan interests might be limited by group values and beliefs. Experience has shown that cooperation has characterized country values (Castle 1995), and the Agrarian Ideology reconciles community values and self-interest as one in the same (Browne et al. 1992). Furthermore, Gardner (1995) and Pasour and Rucker (2005) argue that groups form coalitions to seek rents, especially in the case of agriculture where new interests, such as environmentalism, are growing. Hamlin and Shepard (1993) suggest that agricultural groups see the world as an "us (agriculture) versus them (everybody else)" struggle, suggesting a propensity to cooperate rather than compete. Finally, the Agrarian Ideology may persist because non-producers have little knowledge about agriculture, and those in agriculture have an incentive to promote a romantic image, again incenting cooperation.

Lynne (2002) offers a construct that attempts to unify these observations into a single theoretical model based on relatively recent results in neuroscience and behavioral economics. (1) In this model, an agent is faced with two joint, non-separable interests: one generally representing privately-appropriable benefits ("what one wants to do"), and one representing a moral/empathetic/community dimension representing "what one ought to do" (Lynne 2002: 415). According to this model, agents are likely to resolve this conflict by choosing allocations that maximize neither "extreme," but rather satisfice in a manner consistent with overprovision of the public dimension from the standpoint of traditional neoclassical theory, while remaining rational. At the level of the individual, observed behavior tends to be consistent with such a theory (Bishop, Shumway, and Wandschneider forthcoming; Ovchinnikova et al. 2009; Chouinard et al. 2008). In the case of agricultural PACs, this model can be used to reconcile the finding of different subsectors pursuing alternative donation strategies while maintaining some adherence to the concept of the Agrarian Ideology.

But which outweighs the other: one's partisan and/or personal interests, or an interest in the broader agricultural community? …

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