Paul Jorgensen — Campaign Finance: Improved Data and New Research

The second Lab seminar took place on February 13, 2013 and was led by Paul Jorgensen, Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Texas- Pan American, and Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics non-residential Fellow. Working with Harvard's Center for Geographic Analysis and Baker Library as a residential Fellow in 2011-2012, Professor Jorgensen developed methods for merging campaign finance data with other demographic, political, and economic data. As a non-residential Fellow in 2012-2013, Professor Jorgensen has begun to utilize this new data to study congressional corruption (broadly defined). Professor Jorgensen opened the Lab discussion with an overview of how he has taken geographic census data, and by using zip codes, placed donors into more meaningful geographic political units for the period of time extending from 1990 to present. The benefit of this, Professor Jorgensen explained, is that it places donors into House districts and census tracks, which allows for the study of political polarization in a new light.

In light of this information, a participant of the Lab seminar asked Professor Jorgensen if he has formed any theories that would account for the increased polarization of parties in Congress over time. Based on his study, Professor Jorgensen theorizes that the concentration of political interests in certain geographic areas leads to the nationalization of political money (donations to the DNC or RNC) rather than an equal distribution of money to local politicians. This in turn leads to a greater polarization in Congress. For example, as Newton, MA became more democratic over time, the propensity for Newtonians to fund the DNC, instead of funding local politicians has also increased over time. Another participant of the Lab was interested to know what Professor Jorgensen thought about publicly funded elections and corruption. Professor Jorgensen expressed doubt that these so called "clean elections" will fix democracy or prevent cases of institutional corruption. A good example of this can be found in Arizona, he explained, which recently passed a controversial immigration bill that allows Arizona State Police to enforce immigration law. Aside from the controversial nature of the law itself, two of the Governor's staffers are former lobbyists for a corrections corporation that owns a number of private prisons in Arizona, which serve as detention centers for illegal immigrants. Following this comment, Professor Jorgensen went on to explain that to uncover institutional corruption using the data collected, one of his main objectives is to determine differences in funding populations versus voting populations.

At this point in the discussion, one seminar participant was eager to know if Professor Jorgensen had any emerging applications to target and inform with the data from his project. Professor Jorgensen answered that he would like to reinvigorate the money versus roll-call vote debate by disentangling the procedural voting history before roll-call votes and look at the timing of contributions before and after the votes. Finally, he remarked that this is an emerging area of research, and that this type of unclouded both quantitative and qualitative work are necessary to uncover political corruption.