Politicians’ Private Sector Jobs and Parliamentary Behavior

The forthcoming article “Politicians’ Private Sector Jobs and Parliamentary Behavior” by Simon Weschle is summarized by the author below. 

The influence of money on politics is a hotly debated topic. Most research so far has focused on the effect of campaign contributions. However, a more direct way to gain access to politicians has been hiding in plain sight: In the vast majority of democracies, corporations can legally employ legislators at the same time as they hold public office. However, we know little about the consequences that these “moonlighting” jobs have. In my article “Politicians’ Private Sector Jobs and Parliamentary Behavior”, I show that they have systematic effects on how MPs behave. 
I assembled the most comprehensive and detailed data on politicians’ outside income to date, covering all members of parliament (MPs) of the UK House of Commons from 2010 to 2016. Between 20% and 30% of legislators hold private sector jobs in a given year, and this number is higher for MPs of the governing center-right Conservative party (30-40%). Second jobs are not only common, but also lucrative: In 2016, Conservative MPs with outside jobs earned, on average, more than £50,000 from them, on top of their parliamentary salary of about £75,000.  
Perhaps the most common concern about money in politics is that it influences how MPs vote on the floor of parliament. To find out if this is true, I look at whether MPs’ voting behavior changes when they take up or leave a moonlighting position, compared to their colleagues whose employment status does not change. Private sector jobs have little effect on MPs’ parliamentary votes. There is no change among Labour MPs, and Conservative MPs are only about 0.2 percentage points more likely to rebel against the vote recommendation of their party leadership when earning outside income. This translates to one additional rebellious vote every two years. 
Another common concern is that MPs spend less time focusing on their parliamentary work when they have a private sector job. However, I actually find that moonlighting increases participation in parliamentary votes among Conservative MPs. The reason for this counter-intuitive finding is that MPs’ employers are mostly located in London, and when legislators from constituencies that are far away from the capital take up a job, they spend more time there. This makes it easier for them to be present in parliament. 
Finally, I find a 60 percent increase in written parliamentary questions when Conservative MPs hold a private sector job. These questions are a way for legislators to request information from specific government ministries. I demonstrate that the increase in questions is largest among MPs in leading company positions, and among those working in knowledge-intensive industries like law and finance. Further, moonlighting Conservative MPs target more questions at ministries that are larger and oversee more procurement spending, and submit more questions that ask about department-internal policy information. This suggests that the additional questions that Conservative MPs ask are related to their private sector employment. 
Taken together, these findings are both reassuring and worrying. On the one hand, second jobs do not change which bills become law and do not reduce parliamentary effort. On the other hand, the targeted increase in questions among some legislators is clearly problematic, and raises the possibility that moonlighting MPs change their behavior in other ways too. My article thus shows that one of the most common, and yet least studied, forms of money in politics has important consequences for what politicians’ do. 

About the Author: Simon Weschle is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University. Their research “Politicians’ Private Sector Jobs and Parliamentary Behavior” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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