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The Relationship between Political Parties and Interest Groups: Explaining Patterns of PAC Contributions to Candidates for Congress

Thomas L. Brunell
Political Research Quarterly
Vol. 58, No. 4 (Dec., 2005), pp. 681-688
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the University of Utah
DOI: 10.2307/3595653
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3595653
Page Count: 8
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The Relationship between Political Parties and Interest Groups: Explaining Patterns of PAC Contributions to Candidates for Congress
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Abstract

Interest groups are policy maximizers, while political parties are focused on maximizing the number of seats they win in Congress. These competing goals have important implications for the relationship between interest groups and parties. In this study I develop and test a theory concerning the patterns of hard money contributions from Political Action Committees (PACs) to candidates for the U.S. Congress. I argue that interest groups have preferences as to which party controls a majority of seats in Congress, which leads them to direct "sincere" and electorally useful money to this party (i.e., labor groups prefer Democrats, corporate groups prefer Republicans). When interest groups donate funds to the "other" party, the donations are designed to have as minimal electoral impact as possible. Interest groups accomplish this by giving "strategic" donations to this party in the following way: donate less money almost exclusively to incumbents (who typically do not need the money in order to be reelected). Thus, while many PACs do give money to both Democrats and Republicans, which indicates the importance of access, it is evident from the overall pattern of donations that these groups clearly favor either one party or the other.

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