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What Drives Corporate Elites’ Campaign Contribution Behavior?


Do the U.S. corporate elites contribute to political campaigns purely motivated by ideological considerations – as typically assumed by the literature on individual donors’ drivers of contributions, – or are their donations also a tool of political influence? I investigate this question using a new panel on the contributions to Members of Congress (MCs) by 401,557 corporate leaders of 14,807 U.S. corporations over the 1999-2018 period. I show that personal donations vary over time as a function of MCs’ policy relevance for an individual’s company, measured through MCs’ assignment to committees dealing with policy issues relevant to the company: the likelihood of donating increases by 11 percent when a MC becomes “policy relevant” to an individual’s company. The effect is driven by donations to MCs with the greatest power in the committees. The estimates suggest that (i) 13 percent of the observed gap in U.S. corporate elites’ donations to policy relevant versus other MCs is driven by an influence-seeking motive, and (ii) the total corporate leaders’ donations that are driven by the influence-seeking motive amount to about 53 percent of the overall donations by their companies’ PACs to all MCs over the same period.


Working Paper


Edoardo Teso

Date Published



Teso, Edoardo. 2021. What Drives Corporate Elites’ Campaign Contribution Behavior?.


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