Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Campaigning on Fruit, Nuts, and Wine

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Campaigning on Fruit, Nuts, and Wine

Article excerpt

Explaining strategies of political action committee (PAC) contributions to candidates takes two forms. Scholars emphasize either PAC or candidate characteristics as having more explanatory power over variation in PAC contributions, and this choice results in different expectations for PAC contribution patterns. Using California fruit, nut, and wine PACs, this research revisits a much-debated question: Why do PACs give to some candidates and not others? The findings indicate a mediated model best explains PAC contributions, as these PACs contribute money according to legislator characteristics but predominantly within the state of California.

Keywords: political action committees; contribution patterns; legislative assets; money and politics

Understanding political action committee (PAC) behavior is of central importance, as the purpose of these mediating institutions is to influence elections by raising and spending money on politicians (Sorauf 1984, 592) in order for the parent interest group to gain access to congressional members when the need arises (e.g., Hall and Wayman 1990).1 This phenomenon spawned two different approaches to study how PACs allocate money in elections, each with different expectations and assumptions. The first uses PAC organizational characteristics (e.g., members' geographic location) to argue that PACs contribute to home-state, ideologically friendly politicians in closely contested elections (Wright 1985, 1989). The second uses legislator characteristics (e.g., constituency characteristics, committee assignment) to argue that PACs contribute to politicians who are in an institutional position to act toward PAC goals efficiently and favorably (Denzau and Munger 1986; Grier and Munger 1986). The first model assumes PAC contribution strategy is limited by the organization's geographic characteristics, leading to electoral and ideological contribution strategies, while the second assumes PACs are placeless organizations bound only by the nature of the legislator and his or her constituency, leading to legislative contribution strategies. Empirical conditions and theoretical developments provide a chance to test these expectations and assumptions in PAC scholarship and acquire additional understanding as to why PACs contribute to some candidates over others.

Empirically, California fruit, nut, and wine PAC contributions present a puzzle neither approach is well suited to solve. In terms of legislative characteristics, from 2000 to 2004, Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Sam Farr (D-CA) are strikingly similar. As incumbents during this time, both represented congressional districts near metropolitan areas yet have sufficient agricultural production to make them appealing to fruit, nut, and wine industry PACs. Hinchey represented the twenty-second district northwest of New York City, along the Pennsylvania border, consisting of over 8 percent of the state's wineries and fruit and nut farms combined. Farr represented the seventeenth district, south of San Francisco, along the Pacific Ocean, home to nearly 3 percent of California's wineries and fruit and nut farms combined. In addition, both members sat on an important committee of jurisdiction (Agriculture Subcommittee on Appropriations) with similar ideological voting records on the economy (both place on the liberal side of the left-right spectrum). Hinchey won reelection by an average of a 30 percent vote margin and Farr with an average of 41 percent. Despite these similarities, California fruit, nut, and wine PACs contributed $58,785 net dollars to Farr and only $1,500 net dollars to Hinchey during the same period. How do our existing models explain this differential? A pure legislative characteristic approach would expect similar contributions for Representatives Hinchey and Farr, and a pure organizational characteristic approach, while expecting more contributions for Farr, could not explain this monetary differential in terms of electoral or ideological reasons. …

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