Discussion paper

DP16966 What Drives U.S. Corporate Elites' Campaign Contribution Behavior?

Do 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 U.S. Congress (MCs) by 401,557 corporate leaders of 14,807 U.S. corporations over the 1999-2018 period. I show that donations increase by 11% when a politician is assigned to a committee dealing with policy issues relevant to a corporate leader’s company. The effect is driven by donations to MCs with the greatest power in the committees. The estimates suggest that (i) 13% of the observed gap in corporate leaders’ 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 are about 53% of the overall donations by their companies’ PACs to all MCs over the same period.


Teso, E (2022), ‘DP16966 What Drives U.S. Corporate Elites' Campaign Contribution Behavior?‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16966. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp16966