The Effects of Campaign Contributions on State Legislators

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Tremendous increases in campaign contributions at the state legislative level, both from labor and business interests have led to suspicions regarding the influence of money on legislative voting. This study seeks to assess the degree to which campaign funds flowing from private interests to state legislators, influence how legislators vote on bills that affect those private interests. This study addresses the influence of money on roll call votes using campaign contribution data from 4,000 legislators in 22 states for the 1998 and 2000 election cycles. The analysis shows that in states with nonprofessional legislatures, campaign contributions from business interests do indeed influence how legislators vote on business-supported legislation. Unlike professionalized legislatures, where such factors as significant staff support, and stricter campaign finance laws mitigate the influence of lobbyists and campaign contributions, legislators in nonprofessional legislators are often overburdened with complex policy proposals along as well as numerous contributors and lobbyists ready to provide both campaign money and advice when it comes to voting for business-backed legislation. Disaggregating the analysis to the individual state level provides for a detailed examination of the political forces and policy environments, both historically and in the present that have shaped how and why the major players in state capitols maintain their influence over policy outputs. Findings that link the contributions of business interests to legislative voting raise important concerns including the declining representativeness of state legislators as well as the possibility of corrupt practices or the perceptions of corruption among the public when money is exchanged for votes.