Does Political Ambiguity Pay? Corporate Campaign Contributions and the Rewards to Legislator Reputation
NBER Working Paper No. 7475
Do politicians tend to follow a strategy of ambiguity in their policy positions or a strategy of reputational development to reduce uncertainty about where they stand? Ambiguity could allow a legislator to avoid alienating constituents and to play rival interests off against each other to maximize campaign contributions. Alternatively, reputational clarity could help to reduce uncertainty about a candidate and lead to high campaign contributions from favored interests. We outline a theory that considers conditions under which a politician would and would not prefer reputational development and policy-stance clarity in the context of repeat dealing with special interests. Our proxy for reputational development is the percent of repeat givers to a legislator. Using data on corporate political action committee contributions (PACs) to members of the U.S. House during the seven electoral cycles from 1983/84 to 1995/96, we find that legislators do not appear to follow a strategy of ambiguity and that high reputational development is rewarded with high PAC contributions.