Palace intrigue

Kevin Lewis

January 11, 2019

Hall of Mirrors: Corporate Philanthropy and Strategic Advocacy
Marianne Bertrand et al.
NBER Working Paper, December 2018


Politicians and regulators rely on feedback from the public when setting policies. For-profit corporations and non-pro t entities are active in this process and are arguably expected to provide independent viewpoints. Policymakers (and the public at large), however, may be unaware of the financial ties between some firms and non-profits - ties that are legal and tax-exempt, but difficult to trace. We identify these ties using IRS forms submitted by the charitable arms of large U.S. corporations, which list all grants awarded to non-profits. We document three patterns in a comprehensive sample of public commentary made by firms and non-profits within U.S. federal rulemaking between 2003 and 2015. First, we show that, shortly after a firm donates to a non-profit, the grantee is more likely to comment on rules for which the firm has also provided a comment. Second, when a firm comments on a rule, the comments by non-profits that recently received grants from the firm's foundation are systematically closer in content similarity to the firm's own comments than to those submitted by other non-profits commenting on that rule. This content similarity does not result from similarly-worded comments that express divergent sentiment. Third, when a firm comments on a new rule, the discussion of the final rule is more similar to the firm's comments when the firm's recent grantees also comment on that rule. These patterns, taken together, suggest that corporations strategically deploy charitable grants to induce non-pro fit grantees to make comments that favor their benefactors, and that this translates into regulatory discussion that is closer to the firm's own comments.

Spillovers from regulating corporate campaign contributions
Adam Fremeth, Brian Kelleher Richter & Brandon Schaufele 
Journal of Regulatory Economics, December 2018, Pages 244-265


Populist clamor and recent Supreme Court decisions have renewed calls for increased regulation of corporate money in politics. Few empirical estimates exist, however, on the implications of existing rules on firms’ political spending. Exploiting within firm-cycle cross-candidate variation and across firm-cycle variation, we demonstrate that the regulation of PAC campaign contributions generates large spillovers into other corporate political expenditures such as lobbying. Using both high dimensional fixed effects and regression discontinuity designs, we demonstrate that firms constrained by campaign contribution limits spend between $549,000 and $1.6M more on lobbying per election cycle, an amount that is more than 100 times the campaign contribution limit. These results demonstrate that, similar to regulations in other domains of the economy, constraining specific corporate political activities often yields unintended effects.

Checking facts and fighting back: Why journalists should defend their profession
Raymond Pingree et al.
PLoS ONE, December 2018


Bias accusations have eroded trust in journalism to impartially check facts. Traditionally journalists have avoided responding to such accusations, resulting in an imbalanced flow of arguments about the news media. This study tests what would happen if journalists spoke up more in defense of their profession, while simultaneously also testing effects of doing more fact checking. A five-day field experiment manipulated whether an online news portal included fact check stories and opinion pieces defending journalism. Fact checking was beneficial in terms of three democratically desirable outcomes - media trust, epistemic political efficacy, and future news use intent - only when defense of journalism stories were also present. No partisan differences were found in effects: Republicans, Democrats, and Independents were all affected alike. These results have important implications for journalistic practice as well as for theories and methods of news effects.

Trading on Private Information: Evidence from Members of Congress
Serkan Karadas
Financial Review, February 2019, Pages 85-131


I examine the stock trades of members of Congress and find that over 2004-2010 the buy‐minus‐sell portfolios of powerful Republicans have the highest abnormal returns, exceeding 35% on an annual basis under a one‐week holding period. Among powerful Republicans, the abnormal returns are mostly concentrated in the portfolios of those with less trading experience. I also find that the positive abnormal returns disappear after the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act was passed in 2012. My results imply that the STOCK Act affected politicians' incentives to trade on private information, which they acquired through their power and party membership.

It is a Sweetheart of a Deal: Political Connections and CorporateFederal Contracting
Stephen Ferris, Reza Houston & David Javakhadze 
Financial Review, February 2019, Pages 57-84


We examine whether political connections measured by political contributions influence the choice of terms included in government contracts awarded to firms. We construct an index of four “sweetheart” contract terms and find that firms making larger political contributions more frequently have these favorable terms included in their contracts. We also find that political contributions have explanatory power for contract design after controlling for lobbying, negotiation power, and the employment of former government employees. These results are robust to alternative model specifications, different estimation techniques, various variable measurements, and adjustments for possible endogeneity.

Validity and Reliability of Identifying Presidential Positions on RollCall Votes in the Age of Trump
Jon Bond
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Presidency scholars have interpreted Congressional Quarterly's (CQ) studies of how often members of Congress support the president's position on roll‐call votes and how often he prevails as valid and reliable measures of presidential support and success. This interpretation assumes that the president's position‐taking behavior is honest and consistent and that he contributed to and understands the policies he purports to support. Trump's behavior belies these assumptions. His erratic behavior highlights the fundamental importance of reliably observing this aspect of presidential behavior. This article assesses the validity and reliability of CQ's Presidential Support studies and compares CQ's list of presidential position votes in 2017 to the list identified by FiveThirtyEight. The analysis finds a number of inconsistencies in how CQ identified presidential positions over time and that only about 50 percent of votes identified in the two studies are on both lists. These results raise questions about whether presidential support scores and success rates in recent years are comparable to those in previous decades.

Politicization and Responsiveness in Executive Agencies
Kenneth Lowande
Journal of Politics, January 2019, Pages 33-48


Scholarship on bureaucratic responsiveness to Congress typically focuses on delegation and formal oversight hearings. Overlooked are daily requests to executive agencies made by legislators that propose policies, communicate concerns, and request information or services. Analyzing over 24,000 of these requests made to 13 executive agencies between 2007 and 2014, I find agencies systematically prioritize the policy-related requests of majority party legislators - but that this effect can be counteracted when presidents politicize agencies through appointments. An increase in politicization produces a favorable agency bias toward presidential copartisans. This same politicization, however, has a net negative impact on agency responsiveness - agencies are less responsive to members of Congress, but even less responsive to legislators who are not presidential copartisans. Critically, this negative impact extends beyond policy-related requests to cases of constituency service. The results suggest that presidential appointees play an important, daily mediating role between Congress and the bureaucracy.

Congressional Processes and Public Approval of New Laws
James Curry
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


Does how Congress makes a law affect public approval of that law? This question has been little studied, but the rising use of unorthodox processes in Congress raises concerns about the perceived legitimacy of congressional action among the public. Utilizing two unique survey experiments, I present evidence that when people are aware of the use of unorthodox legislative processes they express lower levels of approval for new laws. This effect is especially pronounced among partisans already inclined to be in opposition to the law, further solidifying their opposition. These findings have important implications for a Congress that in recent years has increasingly turned to unorthodox legislative processes to pass legislation.

A Race for the Regs: Unified Government, Statutory Deadlines, and Federal Agency Rulemaking
Jason MacDonald & Robert McGrath
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Theory suggests that Congress should delegate more policymaking authority to the bureaucracy under unified government, where lawmakers are less worried about the president orchestrating “bureaucratic drift.” Yet, all unified governments come to an end, making broad delegations potentially advantageous to future lawmaking coalitions (“coalitional drift”). We seek to assess how lawmakers simultaneously limit the risk of each of these pitfalls of delegation. Our answer is rooted in Congress's ability to spur agency rulemaking activity under unified government. Specifically, we expect statutes passed under unified government to require agencies to issue regulations quickly and for enacting coalitions to use oversight tools to influence agency policy choices. Such “proximate oversight” allows coalitions to cement policy decisions before a new election changes the configuration of preferences within Congress and the executive branch. We assess our argument using unique data on both congressional rulemaking deadlines (1995-2014) and the speed with which agencies issue regulations (1997-2014).

Electoral cycles in government employment: Evidence from US gubernatorial elections
Dodge Cahan
European Economic Review, January 2019, Pages 122-138


Incumbents may opportunistically design policies increasing employment before elections or postpone cuts until afterwards. I investigate electoral cycles in public sector employment around US gubernatorial elections. Exploiting staggered gubernatorial election cycles across states, I use both county fixed effects models and a geographic discontinuity design that compares neighboring counties at state borders with a difference in gubernatorial election cycles. Consistent with manipulation, state and local government employment per capita are higher leading up to elections; afterwards, employment abruptly returns to normal. Political and spatial heterogeneities are investigated, including by election competitiveness, term limits, incumbent party affiliation, and ideological alignment between the incumbent and the state legislature or local citizens. Differences across types of government employment, and private sector employment, are also explored.

What Happens When Insurers Make Insurance Laws? State Legislative Agendas and the Occupational Makeup of Government
Eric Hansen, Nicholas Carnes & Virginia Gray 
State Politics & Policy Quarterly, forthcoming


Do the occupational backgrounds of politicians affect the government’s agenda? Businesses have long thought so. The first occupational data on state legislators were collected by the Insurance Information Institute, an interest group representing major insurance companies. In this paper, we test one potential motive for these kinds of efforts: the idea that the occupational makeup of governments affects the agendas they pursue, an argument that has been largely neglected in research on politicians’ occupational backgrounds. We focus here on the insurance industry. Using original data, we find that state legislatures with more former insurers consider fewer bills regulating insurance (negative agenda control), that former insurers play a disproportionate role in drafting the insurance bills that are introduced (positive agenda control), and that the bills former insurers introduce tend to be more favorable to the industry than those that their colleagues introduce (positive agenda control). The occupational makeup of legislatures may indeed affect their agendas, as industry groups have long suspected.

Gilt by Associations: Appointments to Federal Advisory Committees in U.S. National Security Politics
Chad Levinson
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Federal Advisory Committees (FACs) offer opportunities for private citizens to gain access to the national security apparatus of the U.S. government. What explains the appointment of interest group affiliates to national security FACs? This article analyzes patterns of interest‐group membership in FACs, using an original data set based on official General Services Administration data. Organizational affiliations are identified across thousands of appointments. The analysis shows that interest‐group appointments to critical national security FACs increase with opposition‐party power in Congress. This suggests that interest‐group access improves when the administration needs help with a political strategy to overcome legislative opposition.

Do Elections Improve Constituency Responsiveness? Evidence from US Cities
Darin Christensen & Simon Ejdemyr
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


Do elections motivate incumbent politicians to serve their voters? In this paper, we use millions of service requests placed by residents in US cities to measure constituency responsiveness. We then test whether an unusual policy change in New York City, which enabled city councilors to run for three rather than two terms in office, improved constituency responsiveness in previously term-limited councilors’ districts. Using difference-in-differences, we find robust evidence for this. Taking advantage of differential timing of local election races in New York City and San Francisco, we also find late-term improvements to responsiveness in districts represented by reelection-seeking incumbents. Elections improve municipal services, but also create cycles in constituency responsiveness. These findings have implications for theories of representative democracy.

The Endurance of Politicians’ Values Over Four Decades: A Panel Study
Donald Searing, William Jacoby & Andrew Tyner 
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


How much do the political values of politicians endure throughout their careers? And how might the endurance be explained? This paper uses a unique longitudinal data set to examine the persistence of political values among national politicians: members of the British House of Commons, who completed Rokeach-type value ranking instruments during 1971-73 and again 40 years later in 2012-16. The findings show remarkable stability and provide strong support for the persistence hypothesis which predicts that politicians develop crystallized value systems by their early thirties and largely maintain those values into retirement. This is consistent with the view that rapid changes in aggregate party ideologies have more to do with new views among new waves of recruits than with conversions among old members.

Presidents and the Congressional Black Caucus: The Racial Consequences of Electoral Incentives
John Griffin & Brian Newman
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Presidents face incentives to move toward the median voter as elections approach. We explore the racial consequences of these electoral incentives. As presidents move toward the center, they move away from ideologically noncentrist groups like the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Comparing the president’s annual budget proposal to the CBC’s alternative budget from 1980 to 2012, we test whether Democrats’ (Republicans’) budgets are less (more) congruent with the CBC’s alternative budgets in election years. Typically, Democrats’ budgets are much more congruent than Republicans’ with the CBC’s budgets. However, in election years, Democrats’ budget proposals tend to move away from the CBC’s ideal such that Democrats’ budgets are no better aligned with the CBC than are Republicans’ budgets.

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