Volume XXVIII, Number 4
November 2003

Editor’s Introduction

 

        Fifteen years ago Gary W. Cox explained the democratization of parliamentary government in England by the development of national political parties, coupled with the cabinet’s control over the legislative ­process that Walter Bagehot had called the “efficient secret” of the British Constitution. Five years later Matthew Soberg Shugart and John M. Carey took that analysis as a point of departure to show that in many Latin American countries weak, particularistic parties and strong presidencies deprive voters of identifiable choices between national policy alternatives. They called that the “inefficient secret” of Latin American parliamentary systems. In the first article in this issue of the Quarterly, Octavio Amorim Neto and Fabiano Santos reexamine that conclusion as it applies to Brazil. With a careful analysis of bills proposed and laws passed in the Chamber of Deputies in the 1990s, they find that opposition deputies propose bills on matters of national policy in order to attract support for their presidential candidate. Both the open list proportional representation electoral system with state-wide constituencies, and the constitutional restriction on deputies’ right to initiate appropriations and taxation measures, reduce the emphasis on pork barrel legislation that the “inefficient secret” model of Latin American parliamentary systems predicts. The authors conclude that when a stable governing coalition supports the president in Brazil, the opposition can offer voters a policy choice similar to that which exists in the British system.

        Jeffery A. Jenkins and Charles Stewart III write about the unanticipated result of the decision of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1839 to stop electing its Speaker by secret ballot. The aim was to strengthen party ties by making members accountable for their choices in the selection of officers and the organization of the chamber. Efforts to establish open viva voce voting in the selection of the House printer, an important position with power over the valuable printing contract, had failed several times in contentious votes. But once open voting was decided, it applied to the election of all House officers. However, far from strengthening the influence of party on the organization of the House, it strengthened the influence of regionalism by which the political parties in the 1840s and 1850s were increasingly divided. Open voting exacerbated regional divisions as an attentive regional press publicized the voting alignments. Jenkins and Stewart’s study is an example of the unpredictable consequences of procedural reforms.

        In the last decade there has been an accelerated interest in bicameralism. The subject has attracted scholars who have compared second chambers across countries, scholars who have modeled intercameral processes, as well as constitutional designers and reformers. Common to most of them is the belief that a second chamber slows down the legislative process, a position famously expressed by James Madison in The Federalist no. 62. But James R. Rogers points out that the conception of two legislative chambers as veto players omits the fact that each chamber can originate legislation as well as blocking the other chambers’ proposals. If that is recognized, a second chamber can add to the total volume of legislation, on the assumption that two small chambers may originate more legislation than one large chamber. Rogers finds support for this assumption. He strengthens that conclusion with evidence from four U.S. states which at various times in their histories changed from unicameral to bicameral legislatures or vice versa.

        It is conventional wisdom that in the United States the ability of members of Congress to provide tangible benefits to their constituencies improves their reelection chances. But the evidence has been mixed. Michael S. Rocca examines it by analyzing the influence of the removal of highly visible benefits—the closing of major military bases in 1995—on the election margins of incumbent members of Congress. He finds that base closings did hurt members’ vote shares, affecting minority party members in their first terms more than others. The research strengthens the evidence for “the electoral connection,” the link between what members do for their districts and their prospects of reelection.

        In the final article in this issue, Marian L. Currinder reports research on the strategies employed by members of the U.S. House of Representatives in the use of funds they have acquired apart from those that finance their personal election campaigns. How do they use these rapidly growing but little studied contributions to their so-called “leadership political action committees”? Currinder distinguishes among five possible strategies, examining the use of these funds in four election cycles in the 1990s. She finds that when they are in the majority, members use these funds to help incumbent candidates, what she calls a “maintenance strategy,” but when they are in the minority, they support outside challengers, an “expansion strategy.” In addition to these partisan considerations, members use these funds to advance their own career goals within the House.

                                                                              —Gerhard Loewenberg


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