Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Uncovering Political Influence by Using Network Analyses and Exploring Contribution/Party Interactions: The Case of Ohio Legislative Voting

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Uncovering Political Influence by Using Network Analyses and Exploring Contribution/Party Interactions: The Case of Ohio Legislative Voting

Article excerpt

Legislative roll call voting is a decisive moment in the exercise of democratic power, and understanding how campaign contributions affect roll call voting speaks directly to timely issues of influence and corruption. Methodological limitations on the question of how contributions affect voting produces mixed findings. Using original data on the Ohio Legislature, I perform uniquely sociological (network) analyses to help overcome the limitations of prior research and bring the literature closer to an answer on how contributions affect voting. Results show that campaign contributions significantly affect voting, in the context of party. The results imply a causal relationship whereby contributions affect votes. I discuss the implications of these findings for policy research and political power work.

Sociologists have long believed that the relations between influential outsiders and politicians should have important consequences for political outcomes, as illustrated in the classic works of Hunter (1953) and Mills (1956). One method of investigating how influential outsiders may impact political outcomes is by examining the relationship between campaign contributions and legislative roll call votes, yet very few studies in sociology do so. Further, the few studies in sociology that attempt to explore this relationship (e.g., Ashford 1986; Neustadtl 1990) produce contradictory findings, a problem plaguing the broader literature on this topic outside sociology as well (Baumgartner and Leech 1998). The mixed findings in this literature are probably a result of a variety of analytical missteps, such as ignoring the potential interaction between contributions and party and failing to account for the social interdependence of legislators.

In this article I fill the gap in the sociology literature on the relationship between campaign contributions and roll call voting and attempt to overcome the analytical missteps of prior work in this area. I explore the interaction between party and contributions, adding new insights to the literature. Moreover, I employ uniquely sociological methodologies to treat the legislature as a social network and explicitly account for the social interdependence of legislators. Specifically, using data I collected on a twoyear general assembly of the Ohio Legislature, I conduct network analyses to explore the relationship between campaign contributions and roll call voting directly and in the context of party via interaction effects; I explore how these relationships operate across all votes and contentious votes during the assembly; and I attempt to address the issue of causality in these relationships by (a) including only contributions that precede voting, and (b) performing separate analyses on freshman legislators who have no established voting or issue record on which contributors could reliably base their contributions. I conclude by discussing the implications of this study for political power and policymaking research, as well as our understanding of political influence.

POLITICAL POWER

Political power is an issue of concern in both the general public and in the discipline of sociology. In the general public, concern about the issue often focuses on campaign finance and the potential influence of campaign contributions on policymaking - a concern timelier than ever given recent scandals. Summarizing results from a number of public opinion polls, Mayer (2001) shows that in general, the public is very cynical about the current campaign finance system and strongly supports limits on campaign contributions and spending. Sociologists, too, are deeply concerned about the potential influence powerful entities in society have over policy. Classic works such as Mills's (1956) study of the national power structure and Hunter's (1953) study of community power structure reflect this deep concern, as do a number of more recent works (e.g., Domhoff 1990, 2006; Mizruchi 1992). Yet very few studies in sociology examine how campaign contributions per se affect policy decisions. …

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