- Closing Down and Cashing In: Extremism and Political Fundraising. Published in State Politics and Policy Quarterly,
- Can politically polarizing events bear dividends for extremist lawmakers? Evidence from California legislative financial disclosures suggests they can. During the state’s numerous budget shutdowns of the last 30 years, extremist legislators outside their party median could expect greater fund-raising hauls than their more centrist counterparts. The results suggest that polarizing events such as California’s perennial budget impasses can make extremist positions more appealing to the polarized political elites who generally fund political campaigns. Regardless of the motivation, however, these results suggest a strong incentive to prolong political discord by extremists–a troubling outcome in cases where super-majority votes are required.
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- Dark Parties: Citizens United, Independent-Expenditure Networks and the Evolution of Political Parties.
- Following the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, independent expenditures have grown dramatically both in terms of raw dollars and as a percentage of spending in elections. A large and growing portion comes from political nonprofits—so called “dark money” groups—so named because the terms of their incorporation allows them to partially obscure the sources of their income. I develop a new dataset of about 2,350,000 tax documents released by the IRS and use it to test a new theory of spending in Congressional elections. I posit that the pathways for anonymous giving that emerged from the Citizens United decision allowed ideologically motivated interest groups to form new networks and more aggressively challenge more established factions of political parties in way previously unfeasible. Testing this theory,find strong support that these groups back more extremist candidates—especially in party primaries—than either formal party organizations or access-oriented interest groups. These results give evidence to recent suggestions by some scholars that asymmetric polarization may be in part caused by changes in campaign finance law that empowered these ideologically motivated groups while hobbling efforts of more moderate party factions.
- Public Positions, Private Giving: Dark Money and Political Donors in the Digital Age.
- Dark money—campaign funds raised by 501(c) designated non-profit corporations whose donors are exempt from disclosure—have become an increasingly large portion of the expanding amount of money spent in American elections at both the state and federal level. This paper makes use a one-of-a-kind data-set—the only donor list for a dark money group in existence today—“Americans for Job Security”—which contributed $11 million to two conservative leaning ballot initiative campaigns in California during the 2012 elections. In comparing the mean ideological scores between donors to this dark money group and traditional donors to the two propositions, I find a strong liberal tilt of donors to Americans for Job Security. Turning to a survey experiment, I find that potential voters are more likely to react negatively to an actual argument by opponents of a ballot measure similar to that which Americans for Job Security opposed when they know the names of the actual donors to the dark money group. Combined, these results indicate donors to these groups are using these political nonprofits to conceal their identities and that in doing so, they are able to avoid negatively prejudicing voters against their supported measure or candidate.
- All the President’s Tweets: Studying the Big Data of Twitter Political Communication with a Small Data Approach, (with Thad Kousser, UCSD Political Science.)
- This paper describes and demonstrates an approach to studying political communication on Twitter that combines the flexibility and subtlety of human coding on small datasets with the scalability of big data methods. We apply this method to study the 152,134 tweets sent by candidates and their super PACs during the 2016 American presidential election. We begin by outlining the importance of studying this increasingly prominent form of political communication, laying out both the opportunities and obstacles to analyzing the massive volume of social media political texts. We then explain our supervised learning method to classify the ideology and sentiment of tweets, what policy spheres they address, whether they make factual statements or espouse opinions, and other characteristics. To demonstrate what this approach to studying political communication can tell us about a campaign, we then focus on our measure of ideology. We map the candidates on a spatial spectrum based on their social media rhetoric, explore Donald Trump’s unique brand of populism by looking at where he placed himself on different issues, and asked whether he and Hillary Clinton followed the Downsian impulse to moderate their message from the primary to the general election.
- The Hashtag Primary: Speaking Narrowly and Broadly in the 2016 Presidential Election.
- Does the polarization manifest in almost all aspects of American politics also show up on the campaign trail? Evidence from the social media accounts of all candidates in the 2016 U.S. Presidential race indicate that polarization may be more tactical than we previously imagined. Taking a network science approach to candidate and super PAC Twitter accounts, I quantify the polarization of over 6,000 hashtags used to guide Twitter users to content and found that candidates speak to more polarized channels only when they are rising in the polls. These results hold for both parties, though the effect is far more pronounced for Republicans than Democrats.
- Super PAC Insurance: How Market-Based Campaign Finance Reform Would Look, (with Nick Warshaw, JD, UCLA School of Law. )
- Since the Citizens United decision in 2010, super PACs have grown to dominate the American campaign finance landscape. With the ability to raise unlimited amounts of money, a super PAC can quickly dominate the airwaves during an election—dramatically altering an election and raising serious concerns for effective representation. To counteract super PAC spending, we propose an old business model, insurance, for a new market vertical, super PACs. An insurance model can protect insured candidates from Super PAC expenditures, reduce the influence of money and politics and produce a return for its investors–all with no investment of public funds and without changing any existing campaign finance laws or regulations. Our paper demonstrates not only the financially viability of super PAC insurance, but outlines the legal viability of such a proposal as well. To determine the price of candidate premiums, we use Federal Elections Commission (FEC) data to produce a count model that predicts the approximate dollar level of super PAC spending in a candidate race based on a series of factors. Further, we demonstrate the feasibility of effectively predicting super PAC spending using an ensemble learning method. Being able to forecast which raises a super PAC will enter and approximately how much they will spend allows for the creation of sound premiums to guard against a market collapse. The results of our study speak not just to the business model of super PAC insurance, but to a new strategy in combating the effects of money-in-politics.