Ciara Hudson

Pay to Play Politics: An Examination of Big Money’s Influence in the United States Senate

April 10, 2021   /  

Name: Ciara Hudson
Major: Political Science
Minor: South Asian Studies
Advisors: Dr. Avram Muñoz and Dr. Alvaro Corral

With ever increasing amounts of outside money circulating in American politics and election campaigns since the landmark Supreme Court decisions Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, understanding whether the presence of such outside money influences how American constituents view Washington and feel about representative government is an important undertaking. Through a survey of 565 ordinary citizens of voting age from across the country fielded over Amazon Microsoft MTurk, this Independent Study project seeks come to a better understanding of how constituents feel about outside money in politics and representation. Because of longer term limits, the analysis centers around the United States Senate and asks about representation through the lens of how constituents feel about their Senators in Washington. The project poses the hypotheses that (1) outside spending will decrease the appetite of ordinary Americans for political participation, (2) annual income levels will play a role in whether constituents feel warmly toward candidates whose campaigns take money from outside groups and Super PACs (i.e. those with higher incomes will feel more warmly than those with lower incomes toward the presence of outside money in politics), and (3) perceptions of higher levels of outside spending in election campaigns will negatively impact constituents’ assessments of how well their members of Congress represent them. While data from the analysis only supported two of the three hypotheses put forward by the project, interesting results came out of the survey in regard to relationships between the education levels, annual income levels, political party identification, general trust in the government to do the right thing, and political engagement among respondents. Through its discussion of the results from the MTurk survey and inclusion of a deep dive into published scholarly literature on the subjects of outside money in politics and campaign finance reform, this Independent Study provides important insights into outside money in American politics and attempts to comprehensively outline what the presence of such money might have in store for representative democracy in the United States.

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Ciara will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST: 6-8am, Africa/Europe: early evening)
noon-2pm EDT (PST: 9-11am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)

18 thoughts on “Pay to Play Politics: An Examination of Big Money’s Influence in the United States Senate”

  1. Congrats, Ciara, on completing your IS! I loved seeing how it came together – and I am proud of you for executing your project so well on a topic you are so passionate about!

  2. Congratulations, Ciara! It’s so great to see where your passion for studying politics has led you.

    Does your work give you any insights into the likely support for measures such as those in H.R.1 (the broad political reform measure making its way through the House) that attempt to reduce the influence of “dark money” and increase transparency?

    1. Hi Dr. Krain,
      I did not look at H.R.1 specifically in this project — would definitely be something to explore if I were to do a similar project in the future. Drawing on findings from this IS, I would expect support for the House bill to be split by partisanship and more support to come from both Democratic constituents and legislators. Interest groups (501c3s and 501c4s) would probably not be as supportive of something like H.R.1.

  3. What an important project! I’m always interested in MTurk. Was your sample somewhat representative of US adults in terms of demographics? Excellent work on this. Congrats!!

    1. Hi Dr. Nurse,
      Although my sample was more diverse in age than I was expecting, most respondents reported having either a college or graduate degree (even though the most reported occupation was in either the Service or Retail industries). Therefore, I don’t know if respondents over reported their levels of education or if my sample was just unusually well-educated for an MTurk sample. Also, my sample was much more politically active and involved than I had expected.

  4. Ciara, congratulations once more on this project! You did a great job and I appreciate how your project asks us to reconsider our current system which seems to privilege the interests of wealthy donors over the collective well-being of the country. Kudos!

  5. Congratulations, Ciara! Thank you for sharing your findings on this important and fascinating research topic!

  6. Good morning and congratulations, Ciara. This is quite a project and one of which you should be very proud. I recently read a history of JFK’s life up to the point he decided to run for the Presidency. While the author tried to down play the influence of the Kennedy money on his congressional campaigns, there was no avoiding the 100 pound gorilla. JFK made a point early and often of avoiding – even opposing – the family’s position so that he could represent himself as his own man. In developing this study, did you look into the history of money in senate elections so that you gained a perspective of how today’s situation evolved?

    1. Hi Dad,
      I did look at the history of money in politics in my literature review. The US seems to have done a good job of controlling outside money and monied interests’ influence shortly after the Watergate scandal, but the Acts that were passed were shortly overturned or saw their influence very much reduced due to Supreme Court case decisions. In 2010, campaign finance reform became virtually nonexistent with the Citizens United ruling, under which corporations were deemed “people” with 1st Amendment speech rights. This is why it will be virtually impossible to pass any lasting campaign finance reforms without first overturning the Citizens United decision (and subsequent 2010 and 2014 Supreme Court cases on the subject of money in politics).

  7. Hi Ciara! Congratulations on completing such an interesting project! I was curious if you could describe a little more why you chose to focus on senate campaigns – is more more money going in because they have more significance (through the length of their term in contrast to congressional races)? A little unrelated but an interesting branch off, how do you think constituents would react to huge sums of money coming from out-of-state donors (I’m thinking specifically about the 2020 Senate races in Maine, South Carolina, and Kentucky)? Congrats again!

    1. Hi Shankar,
      I chose to focus on the Senate because Senators have longer terms and thus more time to create relationships with both constituents and outside donors. Similarly, as many House members flip to the Senate, it seemed the chamber of government where legislators want to be the most. In terms of your second question, I would say that constituents’ feelings on the subject would be greatly influenced by their political party identification, level of education, overall trust in government/Congress to begin with, level of annual income, and whether they engage at all with political news. These factors were very important in my study on outside money in politics.

  8. Hi Ciara! Congratulations on finishing your IS! I know that you’re interested in attending law school–how did you utilize your IS when going through the application process (if you did!)

    1. Hi Riley,
      I had it on my resume which I sent to schools but was not able to talk directly about it because law schools don’t do interviews.

  9. What a great project! It has been many years since I have been in a Poli Sci course at the college and I learned quite a bit. Congratulations!

  10. Ciara,
    Now how do we do something about money in politics? You and your generation are about to take the reins of the wagon we know as government and what direction will you take it?

    Congratulations on completing one task and now look forward to implementing a better system. Way to start!

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