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Special Interests and Climate Change: An Analysis of PAC Contributions to Members of the 111th U.S. House
AdvisorPeoples , Clayton D.
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Using power structure research, this paper explores one of the barriers to climate legislation in the U.S.—interest group politics. Specifically, it analyzes how different groups leverage campaign finance by comparing contribution strategies by political action committees (PACs) representing fossil fuel interests and environmental advocacy groups. Industry not only outspends environmental advocacy groups, but is better represented in the campaign finance space. Using OpenSecrets data on contributions to candidates in the 111th U.S. House, logistic regression and hierarchical linear models are run to test a number of theoretically-derived hypotheses concerning the giving patterns of industry PACs versus environmental PACs. Results show that industry PACs follow pragmatic contribution patterns, which is indicative of efforts to gain access to elected officials to influence legislative outcomes. Industry PACs are significantly more likely to donate to incumbents, exhibit bipartisan giving at the district level, are more likely to donate to party leaders, members of committees with jurisdiction over their interests, and members with poor environmental voting records. In contrast, environmental PACs are more likely to donate to incumbents, but largely follow ideological contribution patterns, seeking out Democrats and those with strong environmental voting records. The findings provide insight into how financially powerful groups can strategically leverage the campaign finance system; they also reinforce previous findings—that is, the system of interest group politics is incompatible with efforts to address climate change.