Note

“Masters of War”? The Defense Industry, the Appearance of Corruption, and the Future of Campaign Finance

“Masters of War”? The Defense Industry, the Appearance of Corruption, and the Future of Campaign Finance

Nathan Leys

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Under modern Supreme Court precedent, campaign finance regulations can only be justified by the need to prevent quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. To develop a new generation of campaign finance reforms that are both effective and judicially survivable, reformists need to answer a key question: does money cause, or follow, voting behavior? Using a unique dataset, this Note develops a novel methodology to untangle this endogeneity problem and uncover the influence of the defense industry on congressional behavior.

The results are striking: the percentage of campaign contributions originating from the defense industry has a statistically significant effect on voting behavior. This effect is visible even after controlling for a legislator’s baseline favorability toward the defense industry, party/ideology, and the importance of the defense sector to a representative’s district economy. A fifty-percentage-point increase in the proportion of contributions originating from the defense industry is associated with a one-standard-deviation increase in a legislator’s favorability toward the industry. What’s more, from the 2002 to 2014 election cycles, the defense industry quintupled their average contributions; over that same time frame, the proportion of campaign contributions tied to the defense industry roughly tripled.

I argue that these findings and methodology lay an evidentiary foundation for a new generation of campaign finance regulations based on preventing the “appearance of corruption.” I argue that this appearance can be shown by demonstrating a pattern of individual examples of campaign financing linked to specific policy outcomes which could give rise to the public’s inference of quid pro quo corruption. This Note concludes by suggesting three areas of campaign finance reform in which the findings and methodology presented here may be applicable: democracy vouchers, an expanded disclosure regime, and broader bans on contractor contributions.

 Yale Law School, J.D. 2020.

Cite this article:

Nathan Leys

, Note, 

“Masters of War”? The Defense Industry, the Appearance of Corruption, and the Future of Campaign Finance

, 39 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 655 (2021).