The Influence of Campaign Contributions in State Legislatures

The Effects of Institutions and Politics
Lynda W. Powell
The influence of campaign contributions varies greatly across state legislative chambers


Campaign contributions are widely viewed as a corrupting influence but most scholarly research concludes that they have marginal impact on legislative behavior. Lynda W. Powell shows that contributions have considerable influence in some state legislatures but very little in others. Using a national survey of legislators, she develops an innovative measure of influence and delineates the factors that explain this great variation across the 99 U.S. state legislative chambers.

Powell identifies the personal, institutional, and political factors that determine how much time a legislator devotes to personal fundraising and fundraising for the caucus. She shows that the extent of donors' legislative influence varies in ways corresponding to the same variations in the factors that determine fundraising time. She also confirms a link between fundraising and lobbying with evidence supporting the theory that contributors gain access to legislators based on donations, Powell's findings have important implications for the debate over the role of money in the legislative process.

"Lynda Powell has set out to understand how campaign contributions affect the legislative process. Perhaps surprisingly, scholars have not been able to show this effect of money on politics. Powell provides a strong and clear answer. She does so by first developing a theory of campaigning and legislating. She then tests resulting hypotheses to show:  that financing matters; the more money, the more the influence; and that influence is of the 'pay to play' sort. The result is a very fine piece of serious scientific research that speaks to an important set of issues of direct concern to the public."
—John Aldrich, Duke University

"Lynda Powell combines theoretical clarity with unique empirical data to offer the most rigorous case yet for the widespread but difficult-to-document idea that campaign money influences public policy. This book represents a major step forward in the study of campaign finance effects and deserves a wide readership."
—Gary Jacobson, University of California, San Diego

"By moving beyond analyses of roll call votes to instead ask lawmakers themselves how money affects the full range of legislative behaviors—from authoring bills to killing them quietly—Powell makes a methodological contribution that can help change the normative debate. Anyone who cares about state politics or national campaign finance reform needs to read this book's potent new findings."
—Thad Kousser, University of California, San Diego

Lynda W. Powell is Professor of Political Science at the University of Rochester.

Praise / Awards

  • "[T]his is excellent research and an important contribution to the literatures on campaign finance and state legislatures."
    Political Science Quarterly
  • Winner, American Political Science Association Richard F. Fenno, Jr. Prize, 2013
  • Winner, American Political Science Association State Politics and Policy Section's Virginia Gray Best Book Award, 2014

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 272pp.
  • 15 figures, 22 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07172-2

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  • $88.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05172-4

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  • $41.95 U.S.

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  • State legislatures, Campaign contributions, Campaign contributors, Campaign donors, Influence of money, Lobbying, Caucus fundraising, Campaign finance, Rent-seeking


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