Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Donation Motivations: Testing Theories of Access and Ideology

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Donation Motivations: Testing Theories of Access and Ideology

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


Why do individuals and organizations contribute money to political campaigns? Recently, scholars have paid a great deal of attention to the degree to which money influences electoral results (A. Brown 2013; Green and Krasno 1988; Jacobson 1978), legislative outcomes (Groseclose and Snyder 1996; Hall and Wayman 1990; Powell 2012), and representation (Bartels 2010; Gilens 2012). Moreover, scholars have investigated the various ways in which candidates appeal to donors (Hassell and Monson 2014) and where they target such appeals (Bramlett, Gimpel, and Lee 2011; Gimpel, Lee, and Kaminski 2006; Tam Cho and Gimpel 2007). Yet, to document the effects of money on politics outcomes, we must better understand what exactly donors expect from their contributions. If, for instance, contributors give money in support of candidates with a particular ideology, or with the expectation of political favors in return, then we have great reason to be interested in how a representative democracy functions in a world with political contributions. This is particularly true if those who contribute are unrepresentative of the population as a whole (Clifford Brown, Powell, and Wilcox 1995; Francia et al. 2003; Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995). It is with these factors in mind that this paper seeks to further understand the motivations underlying why individuals and organizations contribute money to political candidates.

The primary contribution of this paper is to provide more direct and comprehensive empirical tests of different theories of why contributors choose to give money to political candidates. Previous theories suggest that different motivations exist among different groups of the donor population. Yet, many previous empirical tests of these theories use narrow subsets of campaign contributors. I empirically identify these different motives among donors using original survey data as well as comprehensive contribution and electoral data that span both state and federal elections over several decades. The results provide the most direct and comprehensive test of contributor motivations to date.

Furthermore, tectonic changes in the campaign finance and ideological landscapes warrant a reevaluation of the motivations of donors. In recent years, candidates for state and federal offices have raised substantially more money than in the past (Davidson et al. 2013). At the same time, members of both political parties have become more polarized (Abramowitz 2010; McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal 2006; Shor and McCarty 2011; Theriault 2008). In addition, the Internet has provided candidates with new ways to appeal to potential donors, and, as a result, a flood of new donors has entered the fray (Karpf 2013). Finally, recent rulings by the Supreme Court have the potential to further change who contributes and how much money they can give to their preferred candidates (Gold 2014, McCutcheon v. FEC cases/2013/12-536). Given these changes, the empirical results provide a new look at the motivations of contributors. To do so, I use a variety of data and identification strategies, including an original survey as well as comprehensive donation data at both the state and federal levels.

The results presented herein show that different groups of donors give for widely different reasons. I show that the two largest sources of campaign money, individual donors and political action committees (PACs), exhibit dramatically different behavior in the political marketplace. Political groups' contribution patterns are consistent with motives centered around access and influence. In contrast, the contribution behavior of individual donors is consistent with purely ideological motivations. Finally, a particular group of PACs-those with ideological considerations- appear to care about both of these objectives.

Existing Tests of Contribution Motivations

PAC Motivations

Previous research has suggested that PACs are interested in influencing legislators in an effort to ensure that legislation affecting their particular issue better reflects their interests. …

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