Unequal Political Representation: Evidence from a Comprehensive Database of Lobbying and Campaign Contributions

Awarded Scholars:
In Song Kim, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Project Date:
Feb 2020
Award Amount:

Democratically-elected leaders are expected to make policy that reflects the interests of their constituents. In reality, however, money buys ads that frame the public debate, funds candidates who run for office, and pays lobbyists who advocate for specific legislation. Political scientist In Song Kim will examine campaign contributions and lobbying to investigate the political origins of social and economic inequalities. First, he will develop a comprehensive database of money in politics, encompassing all federal lobbying and campaign donations from 1999 to the present. The new public database will allow researchers to examine the mechanisms through which unequal access to legislative and electoral political institutions may aggravate social and economic inequalities. Second, Kim will identify those political actors who wield disproportionate power, as well as their political strategies. He will use natural language processing algorithms to infer statistically whether any recurring instances of lobbying or campaign donations by interest groups constitute a distinct political connection to specific politicians. Finally, Kim will investigate whether campaign donations made by interest groups are linked to their lobbying activities. He will analyze whether interest groups use campaign contributions to “buy access” to politicians they later lobby.

This study is a part of a broader project supported by the National Science Foundation grant that was used to develop the LobbyView database, which Kim will merge with the data on campaign donations he will collect for this project.


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