When do lawmakers craft broad policies, and when do they focus on narrow legislation tailored to a local interest? We investigate this question by exploring historical variation in the types of bills produced by American state legislatures. Drawing on a new database of 165,000 bills—covering sessions over 120 years in thirteen different states—we demonstrate the surprising prominence of particularistic bills affecting a specific legislator's district. We then develop and test a theory linking the goals of legislators to their propensity to introduce district bills rather than broad legislation. We find that, consistent with our predictions, politicians are more likely to craft policies targeted to a particular local interest when a legislature is dominated by one party or when it pays its members relatively high salaries. These findings provide empirical support for Key's (1949) thesis that one-party politics descends into factionalism and undermines the making of broad public policy.
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