Leadership Power in Congress, 1890-2014: Evidence from PAC Contributions and Newspaper Coverage
39 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 14, 2016
For decades, scholars have studied the relative power of parties and committees in the U.S. Congress. An influential theory, Conditional Party Government (CPG), hypothesizes that as intra-party preferences converge and inter-party preferences diverge, rank-and-file members and committees transfer power to party leaders. Most previous tests of CPG and other theories of party power rely on roll call votes to measure both the distribution of preferences within the chamber and the relative power of party leaders. We propose an alternative that assesses shifts of power within Congress by using PAC contributions and newspaper coverage. Since PACs are sophisticated donors who target their contributions to gain access and influence in Congress, following the money allows us to construct a measure of relative power. During the period 1978-2014, we find that party leaders receive an increasing share of the donations over time at the expense of committee leaders and rank-and-file. The share of PAC donations to party leaders closely tracks standard measures of CPG. Another measure of power, based on newspaper coverage, produces similar patterns for an even longer period, from 1890-2014. Overall, our results provide strong support for the CPG theory.
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