In recent years congressional elections have become fairly predictable and stable events. Incumbents who run for reelection have generally won, often with everincreasing margins. People and organizations who give financial support to congressional campaigns have observed this pattern and found it in their interest to back winners--almost irrespective of their own partisan or ideological beliefs. Political scientists have developed theories about how these groups might react in competitive elections--where the likely winner was truly unknown--but these races have become more unusual with each election year.
One of the frustrations of social science is that it usually is very difficult to change, and thereby test, the factors that are thought to affect political behavior: elections cannot be mixed and matched in test tubes. The 1992 election cycle presented a rare opportunity to test some of the theories that have been advanced to explain how campaign contributors might respond to an election season marked by the potential for tremendous congressional turnover.
In early 1991 we began to think of ways to study how political action committees ( PACs)--the most talked-about source of congressional election funding-- would participate in an election heavily influenced by redistricting, incumbent retirements, and voter hostility toward Congress. We wondered whether many PACs would jump at their first real chance in many years to influence the makeup of Congress. Would they be willing to risk angering entrenched representatives and senators by aggressively supporting challengers and open-seat candidates who shared their specific policy concerns or general political inclinations?
We chose to involve as many colleagues and students as possible in a series of case studies of PACs. Fortunately many of our colleagues and students were also interested in the financing of the 1992 election. Eighteen scholars participated in the study by conducting research on one or more PACs. The contributors followed these committees from the early stages of the election cycle through the frantic final days of the campaign.