Buying the Bums Out: What's the Dollar Value of a Seat in Congress?

By Tim GrosecloseJeff Milyo
1999| Working Paper No. 1601

Because of a little noticed provision of the Federal Elections Campaign Act, slightly more than a third of the members of the 102nd House of Representatives were allowed to convert unspent campaign fund to personal use - but only if they left office before 1993. For the 1992 election cycle many were presented with a very difficult decision: give up a seat in Congress of forever forgo a large sum of money. The decisions reveal the members’ preferences for money vis-à-vis their preferences for office. We incorporate a likelihood function to predict 1992 retirements, and with parameter estimates from the function we derive estimates for the dollar values member place on their seat. For a rank-and -file member of median age and median wealth, we estimate that one would have to offer him about three million dollars to persuade him to get his seat.