Kevin Lewis

September 18, 2020

Partisan Competition and the Decline in Legislative Capacity among Congressional Offices
Jesse Crosson et al.
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Since the 1990s, members of the US House have shifted resources away from legislative functions to representational activities. We reveal this decline using an original dataset constructed from 236,000 quarterly payroll disbursements by 1,090 member offices for 120,000 unique staff between the 103rd and 113th Congresses, as well as interviews with former members and staff in Congress. These data allow us to test two plausible alternative explanations, one rooted in the centralization of legislative power over time and the other in conservatives’ desires to contract government power. We show that the decline in legislative capacity is symmetrical between and consistent within both parties, contrary to expectations rooted in asymmetrical, ideological sabotage. Additionally, this divestment occurs within incumbent member offices over time, accelerates when new members replace incumbents, and persists when majority control changes. We conclude that competition over institutional control and centralization of legislative functions motivates declining legislative capacity among individual members.

Abstentions and Social Networks in Congress
Marco Battaglini, Valerio Leone Sciabolazza & Eleonora Patacchini
NBER Working Paper, September 2020


We study the extent to which personal connections among legislators influence abstentions in the U.S. Congress. Our analysis is conducted by observing representatives' abstention for the universe of roll call votes held on bills in the 109th-113th Congresses. Our results show that a legislator's propensity to abstain increases when the majority of his or her alumni connections abstains, even after controlling for other well-known predictors of abstention choices and a vast set of fixed effects. We further reveal that a legislator is more prone to abstain than to take sides when the demands from personal connections conflict with those of the legislator's party.

Transaction Costs and Congressional Careers: Evidence from Flight Disruptions
Neil Malhotra & Christian Gonzalez Rojas
Stanford Working Paper, July 2020


How do the transaction costs of office holding affect congressional careers? These costs may influence the kinds of people who select into public office and therefore the representativeness of democratic institutions. Gaining causal leverage on this question has been difficult given that many costs associated with office holding are endogenous to characteristics of legislators. We examine the effect of exogenous changes in transaction costs in the U.S. Congress caused by changes in the availability of direct flights from home districts to Washington, D.C. We find that the elimination of an airport that provides a round-trip direct flight to Washington, D.C. is associated with a 0.92 percentage point decrease in the probability that a member runs for reelection. One implication of these results is that members more sensitive to office holdings costs -- such as moderates or members of underrepresented groups -- may be less likely to seek and maintain political careers.

Political Influence and the Renegotiation of Government Contracts
Jonathan Brogaard, Matthew Denes & Ran Duchin
Review of Financial Studies, forthcoming


This paper provides novel evidence that corporate political influence operates through renegotiations of existing government contracts. Using detailed data on contractual terms and renegotiations around sudden deaths and resignations of local politicians, the estimates show that politically connected firms initially bid low and successfully renegotiate contract amounts, deadlines, and incentives. The effects hold across different industries and contract types, enhance firm value, and persist around the exogenous increase in contract supply due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Overall, this paper establishes an unexplored link between political influence, ex post renegotiations, and ex ante bidding of government contracts.

Can Social Pressure Foster Responsiveness? An Open Records Field Experiment with Mayoral Offices
Bryant Moy
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming


This paper examines the extent to which social pressures can foster greater responsiveness among public officials. I conduct a non-deceptive field experiment on 1400 city executives across all 50 states and measure their level of responsiveness to open records requests. I use two messages to prime social pressure. The first treatment centers on the norm and duty to be responsive to the public’s request for transparency. The second treatment is grounded in the peer effect literature, which suggests that individuals change their behavior in the face of potential social sanctioning and accountability. I find no evidence that mayors are affected by priming the officials’ duty to the public. The mayors who received the peer effects prime were 6-8 percentage points less likely to respond, which suggests a “backfire effect.” This paper contributes to the growing responsiveness literature on the local level and the potential detrimental impact of priming peer effects.

Voting with your feet: Political competition and internal migration in the United States
Wai-Man Liu & Phong Ngo
European Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming


Do people “vote with their feet” in response to a lack of political competition? Since political competition is associated with higher growth and welfare, with the free movement of labour, we argue that it should also encourage inward migration. We test this hypothesis by using data from the US and find a strong positive relation between political competition and net migration. This result is robust to alternative specifications, alternative samples and addressing endogeneity using the Voting Rights Act to instrument for political competition. The effect is economically large, specifically, we find that an increase in political competition in the order of magnitude observed in US Southern states during the post-war period leads to an increase in net migration by between 27 and 44 individuals per 1000 population.

Women Leaders and Pandemic Performance: A Spurious Correlation
Jennifer Piscopo
Politics & Gender, forthcoming


The connection between women leaders and superior pandemic performance is likely spurious. This narrative overlooks that women currently govern precisely the kinds of countries that should mount effective pandemic responses: wealthy democracies with high state capacity. This article maps where women currently serve as presidents and prime ministers. The article then uses Varieties of Democracy and OECD data to show that many women-led countries score high on state capacity, and that high capacity states have low coronavirus mortality whether led by women or by men. Arguments emphasizing women chief executives’ superior pandemic performance, while offered in good faith, are misleading.

The Private Interests of Public Officials: Financial Regulation in the US Congress
Jordan Carr Peterson & Christian Grose
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Legislators' private financial holdings affect policy decisions. Due to financial self‐interest, we theorize that legislators whose personal investment portfolios include equities from firms affected by proposed policies vote for legislation that benefits those firms. We also theorize that legislators with greater personal exposure to equity investments support policies that benefit equities markets generally. We create a novel data set of legislators' personal stock investments and examine major congressional actions since the 1990s on financial deregulation and market intervention. US House members who own stocks in firms who benefit from financial deregulation vote for deregulation. House members with greater exposure to financial and automotive stocks support the financial and auto bailouts, respectively. General exposure to equities markets is also associated with support for key legislation boosting markets. The normative implications are significant, as legislators' private interests influence decisions in the public sphere.

Politicizing Consumer Credit
Pat Akey, Rawley Heimer & Stefan Lewellen
Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming


Powerful politicians can interfere with the enforcement of regulations. As such, expected political interference can affect constituents’ behavior. Using rotations of Senate committee chairs to identify variation in political power and expected regulatory relief, we study powerful politicians’ effect on consumer lending to communities protected by fair-lending regulations. We find a 7.5% reduction in credit access to minority neighborhoods in states with new committee chairs. Larger reductions occur in Community Reinvestment Act-eligible neighborhoods and when Senators serve on committees that oversee the enforcement of fair-lending laws. Banks headquartered in powerful Senators’ states are responsible for the reduction in credit access.

Political corruption shielding and corporate acquisitions
Ashrafee Tanvir Hossain & Lawrence Kryzanowski
Financial Review, forthcoming


Corruption includes rent‐seeking behavior by public officials (e.g., lavish in‐kind benefits and monetary kickbacks for contracts/permits/regulatory leniency, improper political contributions/support, etc.) that can negatively affect firm valuations, performances, and strategic choices. Shielding strategies are used to diminish rent‐seeking attractiveness of firms. Acquisitions provide a better channel than cash or leverage for assessing the wealth effects of shielding strategies. We find that the mean 3‐day announcement returns for acquirers for a large sample of U.S. domestic acquisitions between 1990 and 2014 is significantly lower for firms headquartered in relatively higher corruption states. Our results survive an array of robustness tests.

The Impact of Career Politicians: Evidence from US Governors
Harry Pickard
Kyklos, forthcoming


This paper exploits the presence of Congressional experience in US governors that permits the identification of the relationship between political career experience and intergovernmental transfers. I assemble a novel dataset of governors’ political background and match this to federal transfer data from 1950 to 2008. Governors with Congressional experience have 0.8 percentage points more transfers to their state. I show evidence for one potential channel that this may act through, the federal grants system. The findings are robust to outliers in the data, selection effects, close elections and an alternative dependent variable based on a state’s share of total federal transfers.

Female Empowerment and the Politics of Language: Evidence Using Gender-Neutral Amendments to Subnational Constitutions
Benjamin Newman, Stephanie DeMora & Tyler Reny
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


This letter explores language politics as it concerns gender, and investigates the adoption of amendments that introduce gender-neutral language to subnational constitutions via popular initiative. Embracing theories of female empowerment based on resource acquisition and shrinking gender differentials in economic resources, the authors argue that popular support for these initiatives will be higher in contexts where female and male incomes are closer to parity. The study tests this expectation using city-level historical administrative data in California on Proposition 11 in 1974 - the first American state to hold a popular vote on amending its constitution to include only gender-neutral language. It finds that greater parity in income between women and men is associated with greater voter support for the initiative. This result holds after controlling for conceivable confounders, fails to emerge when analyzing gender-irrelevant ballot measures, and replicates when analyzing similar measures held in three jurisdictions in other states.

Heuristics and political accountability in complex governance: An experimental test
Anthony Bertelli & Gregg Van Ryzin
Research & Politics, August 2020


A growing body of empirical work suggests that identifying the actors formally tasked with implementing policy can focus attention away from incumbent politicians. We examine the effects on blame attribution and voting intention of (a) the identifiability of a responsible policy worker (administrator), and (b) the evaluability of the policy work or outcome (policy failure), in the context of programs at two federal agencies (loans by the Small Business Administration and inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Using a set of online survey experiments with 1105 US adults, we find that the evaluability of a (negative) outcome generally reduces voting intention, but that the identifiability of a policy worker (administrator) tends to shift blame away from the incumbent politician and thus to increase voting intention. These experimental findings provide at least partial support for our theoretical expectations.

Do Term Limits “Limit” the Speaker? Examining the Effects of Legislative Term Limits on State Speaker Power
Laine Shay
State Politics & Policy Quarterly, forthcoming


What is the role of legislative term limits in the structure of legislative institutions? Using Mooney’s collective action problem theoretical framework on legislative leadership power, I claim that legislative term limits should be a key determinant in a state Speaker’s power via the delegation of institutional tools that control the lawmaking process. Speakers can use these tools to influence policy outcomes and their colleagues. I test this expectation in an analysis of lower chamber rules in nearly all states between 1981 and 2015. The results indicate that states with implemented term limits are associated with a more powerful Speaker. These findings suggest that a more nuanced relationship between legislative term limits and leadership power exist than previously thought.

Majority Party Strategy and Suspension of the Rules in the House
Austin Bussing
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Most bills that pass the House of Representatives do so under suspension of the rules. Despite the procedure’s prevalence, however, we know little about its systematic use. Although the supermajoritarian threshold for passage of bills under suspension typically precludes the majority party from using these bills for partisan policy, I argue that leadership control over the procedure still allows for the pursuit of party goals. Speakers split the suspension agenda between noncontroversial but substantively important legislation and parochial bills that serve credit‐claiming goals of individual members. While the minority party is not entirely shut out of the process, I argue that Speakers have been strategic in appeasing minority party demands for inclusion. Using data on bills considered under suspension from 1973 to 2015, I demonstrate that the distribution of suspension bills systematically favors electorally vulnerable majority party incumbents, and largely excludes their minority party counterparts.


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