George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Nathan Leys

Ideas with Impact: Investigating the Relationship between Campaign Finance and Policy

Portrait of Nathan Leys

Nathan Leys

Government and International Politics major Nathan Leys (Class of 2017) has studied the relationship between campaign finance and U.S. defense policy since his Freshman year. In a project that began in Dr. John Woolsey’s HNRS 110 research seminar and continued with an OSCAR grant his junior year, Nathan investigated whether higher levels of campaign contributions from defense contractors made members of the House of Representatives measurably more pro-defense. Nathan found that Representatives who are more dependent on defense contractors’ contributions tend to be more pro-defense, even after controlling for pre-existing ideology.

Under the mentorship of Ian Hopkins and with advice and support from faculty from the Schar School of Policy and Government, Nathan analyzed over a decade’s worth of roll-call votes to create a unique dataset on legislators’ favorability toward the defense industry. Using statistics software he mastered through his Data Analysis minor, he then compared his dataset to FEC campaign finance records.

Thanks to travel funding from OSCAR, Nathan presented his findings at the April 2016 National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Asheville, NC. He is now in the process of submitting his findings to peer-reviewed journals.

Nathan believes that the Honors College along with OSCAR and SPIGIA were crucial to his research. He notes, “The Honors College is incredibly supportive of student research. OSCAR, the Honors College, and students’ majors form an undergraduate research ecosystem at Mason that’s really unique.”

Nathan also points out that the interdisciplinary nature of research at GMU is highly beneficial for students. “My project is political science, it’s statistics, and it has implications for law. For example, the empirical effect of Citizens United isn’t well understood – thanks to the support I found at GMU, I got the chance to ask those questions.”