Moffett tests predictions of vote buying in the U.S. House of Representatives

Different procedures in the U.S. House of representative might provide a route for vote buying, according to political science professor Kenneth Moffett.

Political Sciences professor Kenneth Moffett

Moffett’s article, “Partisan vote buying and suspensions in the Postreform House,” investigates the conditions in which the U.S. House considers bills in ways that might facilitate side payments for bill sponsors of the majority party.

The data analyzed shows substantial evidence that majority party leaders allocate suspensions that allow some members to have their bills considered in exchange of future support or other benefits, according to Moffett.

“We have some suggestive evidence that vote buying might take place,” Moffett said. “We know a lot about how are bills considered that we didn’t know before.”

Moffett said more than half of the bills in Congress pass through a procedure called “suspension of the rule” that facilitates the way members of legislatures can receive benefits for their cooperation and vote.

Suspension of the rules is a procedure the House of Representatives uses frequently to debate and rapidly pass measures with neither amendments nor restrictions on the floor, requiring a vote of two-thirds of the members present, according to Moffett.

Moffett used a dataset of all bills in which a final passage was taken in the House between 1975 and 2010. During this period, more than 60 percent of the bills were passed by suspension, according to Moffett.

“Very few political scientists have considered and looked at this procedure at all to consider why are suspensions [of the rule] used,” Moffett said.

According to Moffett, even though evidence of side payments in Congress is supported by data and theory, “at the same time we should be very careful to point that out.”

“Suggestion does not make for the smoking gun, so to speak,” Moffett said. “The data for an investigation if you were fully to pursue it, is so hard to come by for all kinds of obvious reasons.”

In September, Moffett’s research paper was published in “Party Politics,” an academic journal by Sage Publications.

Moffett’s research interests include American political institutions, especially Congress, the presidency, the federal courts and patterns of political participation among younger voters.

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