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Buying Expertise: Campaign Contributions and Attention to Policy Analysis in Congressional Committees


I examine the relationship between interest group hard money contributions and legislators' attention to policy analysis in U.S. congressional committees. I argue that groups tend to contribute to members who have a high capacity to develop effective policies and legislation. Consequently, over the long term, contributions create incentives for members of Congress to enhance their analytical capacity for policymaking. Using data from hearings on the Medicare program and latent variable modeling techniques, I demonstrate that members who have a higher latent analytical policymaking capacity tend to attract more contributions and at the same time tend to engage in analytical discourse in committee hearings. In addition, members with higher analytical capacity tend to disengage from discussions of the symbolic aspects of policies that are of interest to constituents. The results help shed new light on debates over campaign finance reform regarding the normative value of hard money contributions.

Corresponding author
Kevin M. Esterling is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of California, Riverside, 900 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92521 (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
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