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The Influence of Campaign Contributions on Legislative Policy

Lynda W. Powell

Lynda W. Powell is Professor of Political Science at the University of Rochester. Her most recent book is The Influence of Campaign Contributions in State Legislatures: The Effects of Institutions and Politics (University of Michigan Press, 2012) which won the 2013 Fenno Prize for the best book on legislative studies.

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From the journal The Forum


Although many think campaign donations buy influence from legislators, scholars have difficulty determining whether and how much influence contributions actually have in the legislative process. Many studies seek to identify the influence of donors on roll-call votes; after considerable debate, most scholars have concluded that donors have little influence on these votes. What voting studies cannot detect are the important but less observable opportunities to shape legislation that occur earlier in the legislative process. I describe and critique the various methods that have been used to discern donor influence in this legislative process. I argue that donor influence can be measured by combining several of these approaches, and I illustrate this technique using work of my own which studied the influence of contributions in the 99 state legislative chambers. Features of institutional design and politics prove to determine the amount of time legislators devote to fundraising and explain much of the variation in influence among the chambers. I also discuss the extent to which contributions work in tandem with lobbying to influence the legislative process: Is the “access” or the “informational” model of lobbying correct? Finally, I examine whether campaign finance laws can lessen the influence of contributions, and discuss an agenda for future research.

Corresponding author: Lynda W. Powell, Department of Political Science, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627, USA, e-mail:

About the author

Lynda W. Powell

Lynda W. Powell is Professor of Political Science at the University of Rochester. Her most recent book is The Influence of Campaign Contributions in State Legislatures: The Effects of Institutions and Politics (University of Michigan Press, 2012) which won the 2013 Fenno Prize for the best book on legislative studies.


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Published Online: 2013-10-18
Published in Print: 2013-10-01

©2013 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston

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