Publication Date

April 2016


Erika Franklin Fowler




English (United States)


The Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and SpeechNow v. FEC hinged on two central questions. First, does regulation of electioneering constitute a violation of free speech as protected by the First Amendment? Second, does independent support for a campaign, which may influence a legislator’s behavior in the policy process, constitute a bribe? While the first question is better answered by legal scholars, the second question can be addressed, at least in part, by an analysis of interest group influence on legislative decision-making. Assessing influence on legislators is notoriously difficult, due to the complexity of the policy process and the large number of factors that influence interest groups, campaign strategy, and legislator decisions. I address these challenges by using a novel approach to estimate the similarity between interest group priorities and policy outcomes. I begin by using election advertising datasets to test a theory of interest group contribution strategy. These results suggest that interest groups in the post-Citizens United elections focus on victory-seeking by advertising on topics most friendly to candidates’ campaigns rather than to promote their own issues in the public discourse. I then use data on cosponsorship by members of congress to calculate convergence (topic similarity) between legislative agendas and interest group priorities. I find evidence of increased influence post-Citizens United, particularly amongst legislators with fewer years of experience in Congress, and amongst those whose elections were more competitive. These findings support my findings on interest group strategy and confirm hypotheses about the increase of interest group influence after Citizens United. However, the degree of this influence may not be as large as portrayed in the media coverage of the court decision.



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