Study finds evidence that outside money is causing Washington gridlock

A study first published in April on the influence of campaign fundraising on U.S. House members found that the more money congresspeople raise from outside of their districts, the more ideologically polarized they become, which causes them to fall out of line with the political beliefs of constituents.

Entitled “Getting Short-Changed? The Impact of Outside Money on District Representation”, by U.S. campaign finance specialist Anne Baker, assistant professor of political science at Santa Clara University, the findings originally appeared in the April 13 edition of Social Science Quarterly.

Baker came to her hypothesis by comparing member and federal district ideologies using data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study and the NOMINATE scale, which interprets a member’s roll-call voting record into a conservative-liberal score.



After determining the difference between a given member’s ideology and that of his or her constituents, Baker then looked to see if outside money influenced any deviation by examining Federal Election Commission records.

Baker concluded that House members align their political ideology with that of their donors and not constituents, which is reflected in the congressional voting record.  Additionally, congresspersons who receive the most campaign contributions from donors outside their district and deviate wildly from their average constituent’s political views tend to represent “moderate” districts.

Sadly, research also found that more in-district donations does not bring a representative’s ideology closer to that of his or her constituency, because donors across-the-board tend to be more ideologically extreme and tend not to have the same political interests as their fellow district residents.

Overall, between 2006 and 2012, an average of approximately 100 sitting House members raised at least 33 percent of their reelection campaign funds from “outside” sources.  More depressingly, the average congressperson only raised 11 percent of his or her reelection money from donors inside their own district.

According to the NOMINATE scale in the graph above, Congressional Republicans are more to blame for the lack of legislative activity over the past decade, as the average House Democrat has become only slightly more ideological since the 1990s.


[Washington Post] [Photo courtesy Sean Locke Photography & Svetlana Lukienko/]