Surveys show that the majority of people believe Congress is rife with corruption (e.g. World Values Survey 2000). Despite this public consensus, scholarship on the topic is quite mixed, largely because most studies employ a "market model" in which desired policy outcomes are assumed to be purchased by contributors (Gordon 2005). A "social model" better captures the reality-a reality in which desired policy outcomes are gifted via an ongoing friendly, albeit corrupting, reciprocal relationship (e.g. Clawson, Neustadtl, and Weller 1998; Gordon 2005).
Over the past several years, Clayton Peoples has been building a research program that employs a social model to examine contributor influence on roll call voting across large arrays of bills. The findings show that contributors do, indeed, affect policy decisions across large sets of bills. The most comprehensive paper in this program, published recently in The Sociological Quarterly, shows that this influence is remarkably consistent over more than a decade of policymaking (Peoples 2010). In other words, institutional corruption is, sadly, alive and well in Congress. But the findings do not show how this actually matters.
During the 2011-12 year at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Clayton will apply the social model used in his previous work to examine contributor influence on some very important specific pieces of legislation-bills/acts that ultimately led to the Global Financial Crisis. If his research shows that contributors had a significant influence on how lawmakers voted on these specific bills, it will show that the institutional corruption stemming from contributing and contributor-lawmaker relationships does, indeed, have a (catastrophic) impact on society.
Peoples, Clayton D. 2010. "Contributor Influence in Congress: Social Ties and PAC Effects on U.S. House Policymaking." The Sociological Quarterly 51:649-77.
Peoples, Clayton D. 2009. "Reviving Power Structure Research: Present Problems, their Solutions, and Future Directions." Political Power and Social Theory 20:3-38.
Peoples, Clayton D. and Michael Gortari. 2008. "The Impact of Campaign Contributions on Policymaking in the U.S. and Canada: Theoretical and Public Policy Implications." Research in Political Sociology 17:43-64.