Presentation Title
Unequal Representation: Constituency Service in Today's Congress
University of Wisconsin – Madison
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Garrett Hall Seminar Room

Eleanor Neff Powell is the Booth Fowler Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and previously served as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University. Her first book, Where Money Matters in Congress (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press), examines the influence of money on the internal politics of Congress and the biases it has for the policy-making process. Primarily a Congress scholar, her research revolves around three themes: the influence of money in American politics, understanding political parties, and exploring the complexities of congressional representation. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Politics, British Journal of Political Science, and Political Science Research and Methods among other journals.

Representation in Congress is based, in part, on legislators’ ability to assist their constituents with the federal bureaucracy. Constituency service is central to definitions of representation as well as empirical explanations for phenomena such a the incumbency advantage. And yet, too little is known about when and how elected officials contact the bureaucracy on behalf of their constituents. We assemble a massive new database of over 150,000 Congressional requests to agencies between 2007 and 2017 obtained through over 250 FOIA requests, approaching a census of all contacts with the bureaucracy. We examine when legislators contact agencies, which legislators contact those agencies, and the purpose of the contact, showing that as legislators gain power in Washington they often expand their constituency service work, even as they expand their policy work. This suggests that perceived trade-offs constituents may face between influential and attentive representatives is a false choice. Instead, what matters is picking representatives who efficiently use the resources of their office.

Co-sponsored with Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy