A study published online Sunday by the journal American Politics Research suggests that members of Congress are partially motivated by self-interest when voting on the estate tax.
“Some will find our key results cause for normative concern,” John D. Griffin of the University of Colorado at Boulder and Claudia Anewalt-Remsburg of the University of Notre Dame wrote in their study.
The two researchers found that wealthier members of Congress were more likely to vote for bills to reduce and repeal the federal estate tax. The same held true for the likelihood of cosponsoring legislation to reduce or repeal the estate tax. The statistical association between a representative’s personal wealth and their opposition to the estate tax remained even when factors such as age, party affiliation, their constituents’ opinions and antitax views were accounted for.
For their study, Griffin and Anewalt-Remsburg investigated the battle over the repeal of the estate tax in the 109th House of Representatives, along with annual financial disclosure reports and National Taxpayers Union (NTU) scores. The 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey also provided the researchers with data regarding district-level opinion of the estate tax.
Financial assets alone were not an absolute predictor of whether a representative supported repealing the estate tax. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), for instance, bucked the trend by opposing efforts to repeal the estate tax despite her personal fortune. Former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), another outlier, supported repealing the estate tax despite having nothing to gain financially from doing so.
But the general trend showed that personal wealth influenced support for repealing the estate tax, despite these exceptions.
Griffin and Anewalt-Remsburg emphasized that representatives were not simply voting to repeal the estate tax for their own personal gain. Wealth was only “one factor among several that influence behavior.”
“This fact does not diminish the import of our conclusion that legislator wealth affects behavior even after accounting for a number of potential confounding factors, but instead places it in a proper context,” they concluded.
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