Do House Democrats and Republicans Spend Differently?

Guest blog post by Philip A. Wallach and Nicholas W. Zeppos

So, now the question we all love to ask these days: do the blues and the reds act differently when it comes to congressional spending?  Well, when it comes to House members’ 2015 spending, the answer seems to be, “not really.”

On average, Democrats’ personal offices spent $1.17 million, and Republicans’ personal offices spent $1.14 million. Here is a graph of the full spending distribution:

The slight Democratic spending edge is driven by Democratic offices’ slightly higher rate of using their Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA).  Democrats spend, on average, 92.6% of their MRA, compared to 91.1% for Republicans. 

Nothing too dramatic here.  To get very fine-grained, the distribution of Democrats has a more textbook negative skew, whereas the Republican mean resides on a somewhat elongated plateau.

We looked to see whether total spending or percentage of MRA used varied in interesting ways between committee chairs, ranking members, and normal members of both parties, but nothing jumps out: ranking members and committee chairs on average spent $5,800, or 0.008%, less than their relatively junior colleagues. This difference was primarily driven by ranking member spending: while committee chairs outspent other Republicans by roughly $15,500, or 1.6% of MRA, ranking members were outspent by other Democrats by roughly $31,000, or 2.0% of MRA.

These three posts represent our quick first look at a valuable dataset.  In coming months, we hope to dig deeper to find less obvious patterns, as well as turning our attention to the Sunlight Foundation’s Senate data.

Philip A. Wallach is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. Nicholas W. Zeppos is a research assistant in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.