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Examines participation & representation in Seattle's program

Uses disclosure records to examine the strategies of donors & outside spenders

Examines the political alignments of America's top corporate leaders

Research on American  public opinion & causal inference

Money in Federal Elections
Donations and Dependence: Individual Contributor Strategies in House Elections.
Despite the importance of individual contributors to financing federal candidates, past work has largely neglected this crucial financial constituency in favor of research on corporate and trade political action committees (PACs). By contrast, in this study I offer the first analysis of aggregate contributions from the population of individual contributors to House candidates. Using an original big dataset constructed from over fifteen million Federal Election Commission (FEC) disclosure records, I identify individual contributors (rather than contributions) and trace the variation in their strategies across types of House candidates. I distinguish between frequent donors, who are theorized to have more contact with members of Congress, versus infrequent donors in these elections. I find evidence that the character of aggregate donations from repeat donors is more access-oriented even while controlling for other salient candidate characteristics. Funds from infrequent donors, in contrast, appear more ideologically motivated. By also examining the percentage of funds that House candidates receive from repeat donors, I show that the fundraising coalitions of candidates may reproduce reliance on more access-oriented, repeat donors despite the influx of dollars from infrequent donors. I suggest that my findings provide a persuasive case for re-evaluating the diversity of roles individual contributors play in the campaign finance system, and for systematically analyzing variation in contributor strategies. 

Money in the Middle: Contribution Strategies among Affluent Donors to Federal Elections, 1980-2008.
Scholars across the social sciences have long hypothesized that individual contributors often make political contributions on the basis of partisanship or ideology, and that the most active donors may be the most ideologically motivated. But drawing from a newly constructed “big” dataset called the Longitudinal Elite Contributor Database (LECD), I show that past studies have failed to detect several striking patterns in the strategies of individual contributors: (1) a persistent positive association between frequency of giving and bipartisan or “split contributing” and (2) significant declines in the likelihood of bipartisan contributing since the late 1980s. I show that donors who give to both parties also target more moderate incumbents of each political party, relative to partisan donors. Taken together, the findings suggest that repeat individual donors are less partisan in their strategies, and, vis-à-vis the incumbents to whom they send donations, these repeat contributors are also less ideologically extreme. 

Buying a Voice: Gendered Contribution Careers Among Affluent Political Donors to Federal Elections, 1980-2008.
Early work in feminist theory hypothesized that differences in women and men’s social and institutional roles might be reflected in the ways they participate in the political sphere. However, past empirical research has found scant evidence of a gender gap in the participatory strategies or motivations of women and men who become active in politics. But significantly less is known about the gender gap among a more select and increasingly significant player in American politics—political donors. In this paper, we utilize a novel big dataset—called the Longitudinal Elite Contributor Database (or LECD)—that contains the population of all itemized donations made in federal elections between 1980 and 2008. Using this novel big dataset supplemented with Social Security Administration (SSA) data on the gender of first names, we provide original estimates of the long-term evolution of gender representation in the donor pool, vis-à-vis when, how often, and to whom affluent men and women have made political contributions over nearly thirty years. We find that large and persistent gendered inequalities of political voice continue to characterize this significant form of political influence. We theorize the potential implications of these findings for the representation of women’s interests in the political sphere.

Through a Glass, Darkly: The Rhetoric and Reality of Campaign Finance Disclosure.
In Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court swept away long-standing limits on corporate spending in federal elections, but it also strongly affirmed the constitutionality of robust disclosure and disclaimer requirements. In the wake of that decision, many proponents of campaign finance regulation have turned their attention to disclosure as the best remaining mechanism by which to regulate money in elections. At the same time, opponents of campaign finance regulation—including the legal team behind Citizens United—have trained their sights on disclosure, filing new challenges to existing disclosure requirements in a number of state or federal courts, although so far with only limited success. Relying on the Longitudinal Elite Contributor Database (LECD)—an original database developed by one of the authors to track the population of unique individual campaign contributors from 1980 through 2008—this Article tests the Supreme Court’s rhetoric about disclosure, and some of the premises of our current policy debates about money in politics, against the realities of the FEC’s existing disclosure regime. In particular, we find that compliance with existing disclosure regulations is inconsistent and that the current regime fails to identify the most potentially influential players in the campaign finance system. In so doing, the current system fails to provide basic facts about how candidates (and committees) finance their campaigns. We suggest that much of what the Court and reformers assume about disclosure is wrong—that their views are premised on an effective and well-functioning disclosure regime that in fact bears scant resemblance to the system of disclosure maintained by the FEC. Correcting these misunderstandings will be critical to crafting better reform proposals. And the stakes could not be higher: disclosure may well be the only constitutionally viable and politically feasible method of regulating money in elections in a post-Citizens United world. 

The Impact of Associational Ties on the Financing of Super PACs.
Super PACs are relative newcomers to American politics. Unlike most participants in federal elections, super PACs can make independent expenditures using funds raised in unlimited amounts from individuals as well as corporations, labor unions, and other organizations. Using a new dataset, we compare the financing of super PACs to the financing of traditional PACs and we identify the economic and political sectors most prevalent among super PACs and their donors. Our findings demonstrate that with important exceptions, economic or political associations typically have a positive impact on the likelihood an individual or organizational donor will contribute to a super PAC and the amount of the contribution. However, business donors reserve their largest contributions for non-business super PACs, and party-connected and ideological donors routinely support super PACs in either sector. The results indicate that the relationships between super PACs and their contributors are more complex than previously understood.

Public Opinion


Education and Social Desirability Bias: The Case of a Black Presidential Candidate.
Objective. Survey research consistently reports a positive association between educational attainment and socially tolerant attitudes, but critics hold that respondents with high levels of education may simply purport to hold attitudes seen as socially desirable. In this article, we seek to adjudicate between the claim that the association between education and social tolerance is simply an artifact of sophisticated social desirability reporting on the part of well-educated respondents and the competing theory that education has a real impact on increasing forms of social tolerance. Methods. Using support for a black presidential candidate as our measure of social tolerance, we utilize an innovative online list experiment to test whether high levels of support are inflated because of social desirability reporting among the educational elite. Results. We find no evidence of systematic overreporting of support for a black presidential candidate among respondents with high levels of education, and note that social desirability bias declines as educational attainment increases. Conclusions. This research bolsters arguments about the liberalizing effect of education on socially tolerant attitudes, and challenges evidence that attributes this relationship to high levels of social desirability bias. 

Reframing the Marriage Debate: Wording, Context and Intensity of Support for Marriage and Civil Unions.
In the United States, the extension of marriage or civil unions to gay and lesbian couples has emerged as one of the most highly contested social issues. In response, research and polling organizations have sought to measure attitudes on the topic. In this article, we report the results of an Internet experiment testing for framing and context effects on attitudes towards the legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships. We report an increase in the odds of respondents strongly expressing their opinion when the experiment utilizes the same-sex or homosexual frames, relative to when the experiment utilizes the gay and lesbian frame. We also report an increase in support for civil unions when asked in context, but not for marriage. 

Public Opinion in the ‘Age of Reagan’: Political Trends 1972-2006
In March 1972, when the first General Social Survey went into the field, important shifts in the American political landscape were well under way. Forty years of liberal dominance in national politics—represented most vividly in the reforms of the New Deal and Great Society eras—had fundamentally changed the U.S. political system in place prior to the Great Depression. Al- most continuous Democratic Party control of Congress, a liberal Supreme Court, and three influential presidencies (Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson) produced major liberal social policy breakthroughs that built the modern American welfare state.

Causal Inference

The Long-Term Effects of Military Conscription on Mortality: Estimates From the Vietnam-Era Draft Lottery.
Research on the effects of Vietnam military service suggests that Vietnam veterans experienced significantly higher mortality than the civilian population at large. These results, however, may be biased by nonrandom selection into the military if unobserved background differences between veterans and nonveterans affect mortality directly. To generate unbiased estimates of exposure to conscription on mortality, the present study compares the observed proportion of draft-eligible male decedents born 1950–1952 to the (1) expected proportion of draft-eligible male decedents given Vietnam draft-eligibility cutoffs; and (2) observed proportion of draft-eligible decedent women. The results demonstrate no effect of draft exposure on mortality, including for cause-specific death rates. When we examine population subgroups--including splits by race, educational attainment, nativity, and marital status--we find weak evidence for an interaction between education and draft eligibility. This interaction works in the opposite direction of putative education-enhancing, mortality-reducing effects of conscription that have, in the past, led to concern about a potential exclusion restriction violation in instrumental variable (IV) regression models. We suggest that previous research, which has shown that Vietnam-era veterans experienced significantly higher mortality than nonveterans, might be biased by nonrandom selection into the military and should be further investigated. 

The Causal Effects of Vietnam-Era Military Service on Post-War Family Dynamics.
Past work has suggested a lasting impact of military service on the lives of veterans. By intervening at a critical stage in the lives of young men, service may open up opportunities for disadvantaged youth. In contrast, the negative consequences of exposure to combat may offset these presumed advantages. Induction into the military is also a nonrandom process that makes identifying the effects of service exceedingly difficult. In this study we use an instrumental variable (IV) approach to model the causal impact of Vietnam- era military service on two outcomes, marital stability and co-residence with adult off-spring. We find limited evidence to suggest that military service may have a lasting effect on family life. In particular, we find that service reduces the probability of marital dissolution for white men. Service also significantly increases the probability of filial co-residence for men of other races. ​

The War at Home: Effects of Vietnam-Era Military Service on Post-War Household Stability.
Research into the impact of military service on important health and socioeconomic outcomes has yielded evidence to suggest that veterans differ significantly from their nonveteran peers. Though much of the work on vet- erans has concentrated on generations of male veterans from the World War II and Korean War eras, nearly all veteran studies, regardless of war-time period, have been plagued by the problem of persistent selection bias. Since entry into the military is typically far from random, the men represented in the ranks of the armed forces may not be representative of the male population as a whole, making identification of a treatment effect of military service difficult at best. Specifically, unobserved differences between veterans and nonveterans, which are lumped into the error term, may influence substantive outcomes directly (educational attainment, mortality, marital stability, and so on) and may therefore contaminate efforts to estimate a treatment effect of military service or even an intent-to-treat effect of exposure to conscription.
Seattle Democracy Vouchers

Diversifying the Donor Pool: Did Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program Help Reshape Participation in Municipal Campaign Finance?
In this paper, we evaluate whether an innovative new campaign finance program in Seattle, Washington shifted the composition of campaign donors in local elections.  In 2015, voters in Seattle approved the creation of the Democracy Voucher program with the intent of broadening representation in the campaign finance system and expanding participation from marginalized communities. Every registered voter in Seattle was provided with four, twenty-five-dollar vouchers that they could, in turn, assign to the local candidate(s) of their choice.  Through an analysis of the inaugural implementation of the program in 2017, we investigate whether this innovative public financing system increased participation, broadened involvement from underrepresented groups and led to a donor pool that was more representative of the electorate. Compared to cash donors in the municipal election, we report that voucher users are less likely to be high-income and more likely to come from poor neighborhoods.  While older residents are over-represented among voucher users, there is little difference in the racial composition of cash donors and voucher users.  Our analysis confirms that the Democracy Voucher program successfully moved the donor pool in a more egalitarian direction, although it remains demographically unrepresentative of the electorate.  The lessons from Seattle’s inaugural implementation offer key insights for other municipalities considering public financing policies, and these lessons have the potential to reshape the national policy debate about the influence of political money. 

High-Dollar Donors and Donor-Rich Neighborhoods: Representational Distortion in Financing a Municipal Election in Seattle.
Candidates for municipal office collect millions of dollars to fund their campaigns. While previous research about local fundraising coalitions investigates the role of specific interest groups – for example, real estate professionals and developers – and donors outside the political jurisdiction, there has been little systematic investigation of individual donors classified by the size of their contribution or their geographic concentration within the city itself. In this paper, we draw on administrative records of campaign contributions from the 2013 Seattle elections to answer two questions about the financing of municipal elections. First, drawing on research from federal elections, we ask whether candidates build fundraising coalitions comprised primarily of small-dollar donors or whether they rely heavily on high- dollar donors to fund their campaigns. In Seattle, we find that only one-fifth of donors in the mayoral election contributed at least $500, but their contributions account for fifty-five percent of the money raised in the election. Next, we ask how concentrated campaign contributors are within Seattle neighborhoods. Candidates collected nearly twenty-five percent of their funds from the wealthiest ten percent of neighborhoods. By pointing to an outsized role for high-dollar donors and donors concentrated in affluent neighborhoods, this paper identifies a critical dimension of representational distortion in municipal elections. In doing so, it opens a new window into the local campaign finance system - an aspect of our political process that has been largely overlooked in research on campaigns and elections. ​

Broadening Donor Participation in Local Elections: Results from the Seattle Democracy Voucher Program in 2021
The Democracy Voucher program in Seattle completed its third election in 2021. The 2021 cycle featured an open seat mayoral race, two at-large city council contests, and the race for city attorney. Six of the eight general elections candidates funded their campaigns with democracy vouchers.

Building a More Diverse Donor Coalition: An Analysis of the Seattle Democracy Voucher Program in the 2019 Election Cycle

After a successful inaugural implementation in 2017, the Democracy Voucher program provided public financing in seven districted City Council races in 2019. Thirty-five candidates used the program in the primary, including twelve who went on to use the program in the general election.


Expanding Participation in Municipal Elections: Assessing the Impact of Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program

In 2015, voters in Seattle approved the Democracy Voucher program to radically reshape the way municipal elections are funded. By providing vouchers to every registered voter in the city, the program aimed to broaden the donor pool and diversify contributors in local elections. Seattle is the first city in the United States to implement this type of public financing program.

Political Donations of US Corporate Leadership
Gender, Race, and Intersectionality in the Political Donations of America’s Corporate Elite
Women and racial minorities have made significant inroads into senior managerial and, especially, board of director positions over the past half-century. Despite this, there is little research on gender and racial differences in the political behavior of corporate elites. In this study, we investigate whether and how gender, race, and their intersection shape the political donation strategies of elite actors. Relying on a novel longitudinal corporate elites’ political donation database, we provide the first systematic elite-level analysis of political donations to U.S. Congressional campaigns during the 1980-2014 election cycles. Overall, we find that, compared to men, women elites are less likely to donate, but are more Democrat-leaning and give to more ideologically extreme candidates. We also find evidence of intersectionality between gender and race in political donations among corporate elites. While elites of color favor the Democratic Party overall, our results suggest minority men concentrate their donations on more centrist candidates relative to women. Notably, white men are the only reliably Republican constituency within this elite group. Our results portend potentially far-reaching consequences for the party system as the composition of the American corporate elite grows more racially and gender diverse.

Gender, Race, and Intersectionality in Campaign Cash to the U.S. Congress, 1990 to 2014.
This data visualization presents trends and patterns in gender, race, and their intersection in campaign donations to U.S. congressional candidates by American corporate leaders during the 1990–2014 election cycles. On the basis of a new longitudinal database, this visualization shows consistent gender and racial disparities in corporate leaders’ propensity to donate and in their partisan preferences. Throughout the series, the authors find that women are less likely to contribute to congressional campaigns than men in U.S. corporate leadership. Conditional on contributing, women are overall more likely to donate to Democrats than men. In addition to a consistent gender gap in partisan preferences, we find that women of color are the most Democratic leaning, compared with their white counterparts. This latter finding implies a role for intersectionality in explaining the political behavior of these leaders.

The Political Strategies and Unity of the American Corporate Inner Circle: Evidence from Political Donations, 1982-2000.
Recent work has offered competing explanations for the long-term evolution of corporate political action in the United States. In one, scholars have theorized that long-term structural changes in the American political and economic landscape may have radically transformed inter-corporate network structures and changed the political orientation of corporate elites. In another, a small group of corporate elites continues to dominate government policy by advocating for class-wide interests through occupying key positions in gov- ernment and policy planning groups. We offer new evidence of patterns in and predictors of political strategies among the nation’s elite corporate directors. We utilize an original dataset (the Longitudinal Elite Contributor Database) linked with registries of corporate directors and their board memberships. We ask: (1) has the political activity, unity, or prag- matism of the corporate elite declined since 1982; and (2) are individuals who direct multi- ple firms more pragmatic in their political action? Evidence suggests that corporate elites are more politically active and unified, and continue to exercise pragmatic political strategies vis-a-vis their campaign donations. Using random- and fixed-effects models, we present evidence to suggest that becoming a member of the inner circle has a significant moderating effect on elite political behavior. We offer an alternative mechanism of elite coordination that may help explain the continued political cohesion of the corporate elite.
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