Wealth and Policymaking in the U.S. House of Representatives


Do members of Congress with more and less wealth approach policymaking differently, or succeed at different rates? Past research holds that members are typically much wealthier than the average citizen, and wealth is not associated with policymaking power. In this paper, I use data on the personal wealth and legislative effectiveness of representatives betweeen 1980-2014 to explore whether wealthier legislators are more or less successful at advancing their agenda items through the legislative process than their less-wealthy peers. My analysis reveals that the wealthiest quintile of legislators are significantly more successful in advancing their policy agendas than the remaining 80% of representatives in nearly all Congresses examined. Meanwhile, the least-wealthiest quintile of legislators are significantly less successful in advancing their policy agendas than their wealthier peers. I also find that wealthy lawmakers do not necessarily enter Congress with more experience working within a legislature, nor are they innately more effective in advancing their legislative agendas. Instead, their increased effectiveness develops over time and is strongly related to specific institutional arrangements, such as congressional committees and majority parties. My findings suggest that wealthy representatives hold outsized policymaking influence at the expense of less-wealthy members, and they provide insights into how the historical overrepresentation of the highest economic strata in government continues to shape political inequality in contemporary congresses.

Prepared for presentation at the 2020 Annual Meetings of the American Political Science Association, September 10-13, San Francisco, CA.

Darrian Stacy
Darrian Stacy
Assistant Professor