Scott H. Ainsworth

Studies in Public Institutions and Private Interests

Welcome to the Studies in Public Institutions and Private Interests (SPIPI) project page. SPIPI highlights studies of the interactions between private interests and public institutions. Lobbying most clearly exemplifies the interactions between private interests and public institutions, and many of the projects detailed here have some connection to lobbying. In the U.S., the money spent on lobbying dwarfs the money spent on campaign contributions. Indeed, scholars typically use 10 to 1 comparisons. If one is interested in money in politics, lobbying demands attention. Here, the aim is to employ careful and rigorous analysis of lobbying in all of its forms.

In the wake of a scandal, lobbying might receive renewed attention, but such attention is not necessarily empirically rigorous. The lessons learned from a particular scandal might or might not be applicable to lobbying in general. Popular accounts of lobbying often detail scandalous outliers without characterizing basic lobbying patterns.

In addition to congressional lobbying, projects here focus on bureaucratic lobbying and the rulemaking process, judicial review of executive branch agencies, interest groups's use of the federal courts to alter agency behavior, and the structure of political institutions. Some of this work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Dirksen Center, and divisions at the University of Georgia.

A newer area of interest considers how public officials are swayed by their own private interests or personal characteristics. For instance, one might wonder whether legislators who smoke vote differently regarding policies related to smoking. Similarly, even after controlling for a wide array of political variables, faith traditions might still affect votes on abortion-related proposals.


Separation of Powers and the Development and Implementation of Policy

  • Current projects: presidential signing statements and congressional oversight; courts, agencies, and interest groups
  • Past projects: policymaking and incrementalism; Senate bill sponsorship; unanimous consent agreements in the U.S. Senate
  • Partners: Ryan Bakker, Christine L. Boyd, Marcus Flathman, Thad Hall, Douglas Hanson, Brian Harward, and Kenneth Moffett
  • Student Partners: Katie Clifford, Maggie Davis, Douglas Hanson, David Jackson Kendrick, Anthony Michael Kreis, Olivia Lute, Ryan Mayo, and Sophie Winkler

Lobbying and the Public Pursuit of Private Interests

  • Current projects: hedge funds and lobbying; financialization of politics; rulemaking; lobbying federal agencies
  • Past projects: congressional lobbying; interest group entrepreneurship; lobbying regulations
  • Partners: Frances Akins, Christine L. Boyd, Austin Clemens, Erik Godwin, R. Kenneth Godwin, Ruoxi Li, James Monogan III, and Itai Sened
  • Student Partners: Frances Akins, Ryan Allison, Jason Byers, Austin Clemens, and Ruoxi Li

Legislators' Private Interests and Public Actions

  • Current Projects: religion and legislative behaviors
  • Partners: Thad Hall
  • Student Partners: Maggie Davis and Brittany Leach

Published Materials

For a look at some of the published materials stemming from SPIPI, please see my Research page and CV.

In the Media

I am an occasional blogger, and from time to time I appear in a prominent news source. Here's a post on sub-game perfection and credible arguments. Here's another post on credible claims and abortion politics. The New York Times asked for comments regarding Representative Todd Akin's statements about abortion. (The NYTs does not allow me to choose my own headlines.) The Wall Street Journal wondered about the Unborn Child Protection Act in light of the 2016 presidential election. You can read about it here. The BBC asked for my reactions to lobbying and anti-piracy laws. Media outlets are welcome to contact me.

Undergraduate and Graduate Students

If you are interested in working on any of these projects or others, please feel free to contact me. Undergraduates at the University of Georgia should consider research opportunities through CURO.