The world of special interest money is extremely varied: Some politicians use their position to enrich themselves by accepting bribes; for others it is a priority to raise funds for their reelection campaigns; yet other politicians leave their position to draw a salary from the very special interests they were tasked with regulating in office. Despite this variety in the way special interest money enters politics, we know little about what types are present under which circumstances. The existing literature either focuses on “black box” accounts that do not specify in what way politicians accept money and what they do with it, or only looks at one type in isolation.
While all of these parts of the literature provide important insights that advance our understanding of money in politics what stands out is how balkanized they are and, as a consequence, how little they speak to each. My ongoing book project starts the conversation between them by making a simple argument: That there are different ways in which money enters and is used in politics, that the choice between them is strategic, and that this choice has real consequences.
In the first part, I provide a unified theoretical framework that explains under what conditions politicians prioritize raising funds for their election campaigns, when they instead abuse their position to enrich themselves and their family, and when they "cash in" by leaving politics and taking up a lucrative job in the private sector, often working for companies they used to regulate while in office. In the second part, I test the theory using newly collected data on personal enrichment, campaign spending, and post-office employment in various countries. The third part shows that this has real consequences for voters, policy, political competition, and the qualities of politicians who run for office. Finally, I draw implications for the optimal design of policies intended to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests on politics.