Accessible Government vs. Open Government

Congressional Officials Grant Access Due To Campaign Contributions: A Randomized Field Experiment


Concern that lawmakers grant preferential treatment to individuals because they have contributed to political campaigns has long occupied jurists, scholars, and the public. However, the effects of campaign contributions on legislators’ behavior have proven notoriously difficult to assess. We report the first randomized field experiment on the topic. In the experiment, a political organization attempted to schedule meetings between 191 Members of Congress and their constituents who had contributed to political campaigns. However, the organization randomly assigned whether it informed legislators’ offices that individuals who would attend the meetings were contributors. Congressional offices made considerably more senior officials available for meetings when offices were informed the attendees were donors, with senior officials attending such meetings more than three times as often (p < 0.01). Influential policymakers thus appear to make themselves much more accessible to individuals because they have contributed to campaigns, even in the absence of quid pro quo arrangements. These findings have significant implications for ongoing legal and legislative debates. The hypothesis that individuals can command greater attention from influential policymakers by contributing to campaigns has been among the most contested explanations for how financial resources translate into political power. The simple but revealing experiment presented here elevates this hypothesis from extensively contested to scientifically supported.

Donors really are different from the rest of us, they have access.

One hopes the next randomized experiment distinguishes where the break points are in donations.

I suspect < $500 is one group, $500 - $1,000 is the second group, $1,000 - $2,500 is the third group and so on. Just guesses on my part but it would help the political process if potential donors had a bidding sheet for candidates. You don't want to appear foolish and pay too much for access to a junior member of Congress but on the other hand, you don't want to insult a senior member with too small of an donation. Think of it as transparency of access. I first saw this at Full Text Reports.

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