National and subnational legislatures come in all sorts of configurations. This variation in rules and structures provides legislative scholars leverage in answering a wide range of interesting questions. The articles in this issue of the Quarterly exploit these different configurations to help advance our understanding of disparate institutions.
Standing committees are, of course, a central feature of the U.S. Congress and most state legislatures, and many theories centered on legislative committees reflect this American experience. But committees can be configured in different ways and Antoine Yoshinaka, Gail McElroy, and Shaun Bowler examine the role of rapporteurs in the European Parliament to see if they exist to promote partisan policy goals or to provide issue expertise. A rapporteur is a legislator designated to write a committee report on a bill. This report then becomes the focus for debate and bargaining in the legislative chamber. Reports are allocated on a roughly proportional basis among parties in the European Parliament, but each party controls the choice over which of its members acts as the rapporteur. Analyzing a dataset of all reports between 1994 and 2004, Yoshinaka, McElroy, and Bowler find that policy experts are slightly more likely to be assigned as rapporteurs than are non-experts. Perhaps even more importantly, members who are farther from their party median in terms of policy preferences are less likely to be assigned to produce a report. Thus, both informational needs and partisan needs drive the designations of rapporteurs. Interestingly, seniority does not appear to influence assignments.
Conference committees have been a feature of the bicameral legislative process in the United States since the colonial era. Surprisingly, relatively little scholarly attention has been devoted to questions about their policy impacts. This omission is remedied by Ryan J. Vander Wielen, who examines the spatial distance between congressional conference committees and their parent chambers. Examining cut points for each conference committee between 1963 and 2002, he finds evidence that policy moves in the direction of the conferees’ preferences. This is an important finding because it suggests that conferees may not be faithful agents of their party or chamber. An examination of conference committees in state legislatures, which in many cases operate under different rules than those employed by Congress, will be necessary to learn if this faithlessness is a systemic product of conference committees as Senator George W. Norris (R-NE), the father of unicameralism in Nebraska, alleged during the first decades of the twentieth century, or results from a particular set of appointment and latitude rules.
The extent to which a particular member influences the outcome of a legislative vote is a question of central interest to students of legislatures. Examining 40 proposals for which the ideal policy could be determined for each member state, the European Parliament, and the European Commission, Deniz Aksoy investigates the relationship between a member state’s coalition potential (the voting power of the prospective coalition it can form) and its success in obtaining its preferred outcomes in Council votes. She finds that the coalition potential of a member state increases its chances to obtain its preferred outcomes when qualified majority voting rules are used, but not when unanimity is required. Overall, coalition potential explains more than individual voting weights, suggesting that smaller and poorer countries can succeed in this particular legislative arena.
Campaign finance has been an area of interest in the study of American politics for the past three decades. Erik J. Engstrom and William Ewell offer a new twist on this topic by exploring whether unified party control of government produces a fundraising advantage for legislative members of the majority party. Analyzing corporate political action committee campaign contributions to U.S. House members from 1980 to 2004, they find a substantial increase in contributions to rank-and-file members of the majority party when there is a switch to unified government. To examine the effects of a change in intra-chamber party control simultaneously with a switch to unified government—an event that did not occur in Congress during the time they examine—they cleverly turn to state legislative campaign finance data. Examination of business contributions to more than 1,200 state legislators in 17 states that experienced a change in party control of a legislative chamber between 1994 and 2004 again reveals a financial benefit for gaining majority party status, a gain that is further increased if unified government accompanies it.
Finally, there are many famous political dynasties in American political history. Looking at open-seat contests for the U.S. House from 1994 to 2006, Brian D. Feinstein determines that a substantial "brand name" advantage accrues to dynastic candidates. Indeed, it appears that it is the positive attributes attached to the family name that advantage dynastic candidates, because they do not enjoy any greater access to campaign contributions nor are they more politically experienced than their opponents.
— Peverill Squire
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