Moderation or Strategy? Political Giving by Corporations and Trade Groups

Sebastian Thieme


Do bipartisan contributions by corporations and trade associations reflect strategic considerations or ideological moderation? In this article, I leverage lobbying disclosures in Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin to provide a new measure of ideology that allows me to adjudicate between the two accounts. These states' legislatures permit or require lobbyists to declare their principals' positions on lobbied bills. I combine these data with roll call votes to estimate the ideal points of legislators and private interests in the same ideological space. I find that the revealed preferences of most corporations and trade groups are more conservative than what would be implied by their contribution behavior. This shows that a moderate contribution record need not imply moderation in policy preferences. Thus, such interests may not reduce polarization overall. Further, the divergence between contribution and position-taking behavior indicates that many business interests employ sophisticated strategies to influence public officials whom they disagree with.

Published in

The Journal of Politics, vol. 82, n. 3, July 2020, pp. 1171–1175