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Reward of legislating: member’s legislative performance and lobbyists’ personal contributions


Will a legislator with higher legislative performance receive a higher amount of contributions from lobbyists’ personal funds? The transactional school of lobbying posits that individuals invest funds in members who provide productive legislative outcomes. I build on and test this theory, hypothesizing that lobbyists will allocate their personal contributions across their existing ties based upon a congressperson’s legislative performance. Using data collected from the 108th Congress to the 115th Congress, I find that legislators with higher legislative effectiveness receive more contributions from lobbyists. Also, this positive effect is more pronounced among freshman legislators. These findings show the dynamic relationship between lobbyists and legislators, highlighting lobbyists’ strategic use of contributions to advance their preferred policies.

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  1. One major exception is Box-Steffensmeier and Grant (1999) ’s paper, in which they empirically test how MCs’ legislative activities influence political action committee contributions in the mid-1990’s.

  2. Online Appendix: Figure A.1 provides both a sample LD-203 report documenting a lobbyist’s personal contribution and a road map on how to get aggregate contribution by MC.

  3. I specifically look at the number of an MC’s sponsored bills and substantive bills (introduction stage), the number of bills passing the House, and the number of bills becoming law. The LES only captures policy change. It is reasonable to assume that some lobbyists prefer policy stability, so that effectiveness translates into a lack of change. However, there is no feasible method to detect policy immobility. Also, legislators with higher abilities to move policies may have higher abilities to avoid policy changes.

  4. Following Volden and Wiseman (2014); Barber and Schmidt (2019), I conduct a test for MCs from moderate safe districts, analogous results are reported in Table A.14 in Online

  5. Lipinski was chosen as an example because he was the median in terms of received contribution amount in the 115th Congress. See Table A.1 (Online) for the lobbyist-client pairs.

  6. The higher amount of contribution is associated with an increase in their presence in this MC’s congressional office. The member is more likely to grant this lobbyist more time and attention (Occhiuto 2021). This increased time and attention provides the lobbyist and represented clients with a greater chance to influence a legislator’s policy in the desired direction. The relationship between investment and outcome is not guaranteed. However, investment is a necessary condition of influence (Baumgartner et al. 2009; Lowery 2007).

  7. Different states vary in their levels of professionalism, so the training ground is not even for MCs from different states (Squire 1992).

  8. Volden and Wiseman (2014) further supports this argument providing qualitative evidence showing the career trajectory of several high-performing freshmen in the 98th Congress (1983-1984). For example, Rick Boucher and Allan Mollohan later become prominent MCs of the House, while Barbara Boxer and Bill Richardson take positions at higher offices.

  9. The detailed description of the methodology can be found at Center for Effective Lawmaking’s website at

  10. In Online Appendix: Figure A.2, I plot the bivariate relationship between the LES and received contributions among all MCs by party.

  11. I use the dollar value in January 2022 as the reference. One dollar in January 2004 equals the purchasing value of 1.52 dollars in January 2022.

  12. In Online Appendix: Table A.2, I lag LES by one term. The lagged independent variable design considers the possibility that lobbyist has a relatively long response time to an MC’s Legislative performance. As shown in Table A.2 (Online), the central coefficient Legislative Effectiveness remains positive and statistically significant.

  13. Substituting MC’s ideological distance from the majority median to MC’s ideological distance from the chamber median produces analogous results as Tables 2 and 4 (see Tables A.3 and A.4 in online).

  14. In the member-level controls, I included a variable regarding MC’s assignments on influential committees. That said, other committee assignments may still influence the lobbyists’ contribution and legislative effectiveness score. Therefore, in Table A.7, I present regression results with committee fixed effects, the central coefficient Legislative Effectiveness is still positive and significant.

  15. In this analysis, the mean value of log contributions is 4.458, and \(10^{\wedge }4.458\) = 28,708. The standard deviation of LES is 1.393, and the coefficient size of Legislative Effectiveness in Table 2: Model 3 is 0.026, so a one-standard deviation in LES leads to a 1.393 \(\times\) 0.026 = 0.0362 increase in the log-transformed value. \(10^{\wedge }(4.458+0.036)\) = 31,205, so the increase in dollar values is 31,205-28,708 = 2,497, and percentage change is (2,497/28,708)\(\times\)100 = 8.7%.

  16. The mean value of log contributions is still 4.458, and \(10^{\wedge }4.458\) = 28, 708. A one-unit increase of Legislative Effectiveness:Bills using Table 3: Model 1’s estimate corresponds to a 0.005 increase in the log-transformed value of contributions: \(10^{\wedge }(4.458+0.005)\) = 29,040, so the increase in dollar values is 29,040-28,708 = 332. A one-unit increase of Legislative Effectiveness:Bills using Table 3: Model 4’s estimate leads to a 0.018 increase in the log-transformed value of contributions: \(10^{\wedge }(4.458+0.018)\) = 29,923, so the increase in dollar values is 29,923-28,708 = 1,215.

  17. Hirano and Snyder (2019) speculates that the raw LES may not allow scholars to identify unusually ineffective lawmakers, while the LES expectation overcomes that limitation. Also, Volden and Wiseman (2014) have uncovered the correlation in between raw LES and MC’s seniority, majority party status, and committee assignment. Lobbyists are constant followers of congressional politics, who might also observe the influence of those traits on an MC’s relative effectiveness. Therefore, other than the absolute performance, lobbyists may also pay attention to an MC’s relative performance. LES expectation factors in the ratio of MC’s raw LES score, and her benchmark score, acting as a proxy for an MC’s relative performance. See Thomsen et al. (2022) for a detailed discussion on how to derive the LES expectation score.

  18. Compared to a seasoned legislator, a freshman legislator is more likely to learn and cultivate legislating skills. They are also more likely to remain open toward lobbyists. Meanwhile, as Volden and Wiseman (2014) and Berry and Fowler (2018) both find institutional factors exert a huge impact on MC’s legislative performance. However, freshman MCs are less likely to gain seats at power committees taking important positions, so the partitioned sample also offers a chance to parcel out the impact of MC’s innate legislative abilities minimizing the impact of institutional factors.

  19. For freshman MCs, the mean value of log contributions is 4.433, and \(10^{\wedge }4.433\) = 27,102. In this analysis, the standard deviation of LES is 0.785, and the coefficient size of Legislative Effectiveness in Table 4: Model 3 is 0.09, so a one-standard deviation in LES leads to a 0.09 \(\times\) 0.785 = 0.071 increase in the log-transformed value. \(10^{\wedge }(4.433+0.071)\) = 31,915, so the increase in dollar values is 31,915-27,102 = 4,813, and percentage change is (4,813/27,102)\(\times\)100 = 17.8%.

  20. After gaining access with MCs, lobbyists can provide useful information to MCs, which is also likely to improve MCs’ legislative performances.

  21. Volden and Wiseman (2014); Barber and Schmidt (2019) raise a closely linked but slightly different argument on the impact of electoral vulnerability on MC’s legislative effectiveness. Specifically, Barber and Schmidt (2019) points out that counting legislative victory as an effective reelection strategy is fraught with danger, while constituency service or fundraising is more likely to yield positive outcomes than legislating. Both Volden and Wiseman (2014) and Barber and Schmidt (2019) find a nonlinear relationship between an MC’s general election vote share and LES with MCs from moderately safe districts having highest LES than MCs from vulnerable districts and overwhelming safe districts.

  22. Fowler (2006) provides several explanations for regional networks on legislative collaborations including but not limited to the existence of prior contacts, regional organizations and similar constituency requests.

  23. Important to note, as shown by Volden and Wiseman (2014) and supported in Table 2, in the long run, state delegation size posits no correlation with MC’s legislative performance. Some of the most effective lawmakers, such as Don Yong (Rep-Alaska ), are from states with smaller delegations.

  24. I cannot examine those with an increasing state delegation size due to the lack of a parallel trend.

  25. In reality, MCs from states with fewer post-census seats may suffer varying levels of losses from redistricting because of differences in innate abilities. Higher ability MCs should be better able to make adjustments than other MCs. In turn, the effects of shocks induced by shrinking delegation size should be smaller for high-ability legislators. This analysis only measures the average loss associated with a smaller delegation size.

  26. See Online Appendix: Table A.16 where more narrower thresholds (mid 1/3 or mid 40%) are used as cut-points for moderate MCs.


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Gui, F. Reward of legislating: member’s legislative performance and lobbyists’ personal contributions. Int Groups Adv 12, 24–47 (2023).

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  • Lobbyist contribution
  • Legislative effectiveness
  • Reward of legislating