Friday, April 15, 2016

URSP Student Nathan Leys Researches Profitability Through Superior Firepower: Defense Industry Election Spending After Citizens United

My research started out as a freshman writing seminar project for the Honors College. Back in Fall 2013, when it looked like the U.S. might launch airstrikes against the Assad regime in Syria, this study came out showing Senators who voted to authorize strikes received far more campaign contributions from the defense industry than those who voted against strikes. I wondered how you could prove contributions made a legislator more favorable toward the defense industry, rather than defense companies contributing to candidates who already supported them. It turns out that’s a really complicated question. But since defense companies are some of the largest corporate donors on both sides of the aisle, and because we spend so much on defense, if campaign financing creates systemic legislative corruption, that’s a pretty big problem.

I’m really passionate about using data to make life better for people. Since starting work on this project, I’ve become more interested in good-government advocacy and election law, and now I’m planning on going to law school or grad school to get a degree in this field. It would be great if this project gets published, but even if it doesn’t, I still have the experience of in-depth statistical, legislative, and legal research.

My workload varies a lot based on my schedule. Since I’m not collecting data at specific time points or conducting lab work, it’s a little bit different of an experience from some of the hard science projects. So, for example, a lot of the work before Spring Break was experimental design and researching congressional voting activity on defense-related issues from 2003-2015. I created an original dataset for this project, so I stayed at Mason over Spring Break and worked on that – it took me around a week to put in about 14,000 data points. Now, I’m working on some final statistical work and results.

The average proportion of a Representative’s campaign contributions originating from the defense industry has approximately tripled since 2002.