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Richard Rousseau ’17 Presents on Money in Politics at Academic Conference

May 15, 2017
Richard Rousseau ’17
Richard Rousseau ’17

Recent political science grad Richard Rousseau ’17 doesn’t just study politics – he participates. He ran for state representative in his home district of Raymond, N.H., last November. Weighing in as a Democrat in a staunchly Republican district, he lost, but only by 5% of the vote; quite an accomplishment for a young first-timer. And he did go on to be elected to serve on Raymond’s Budget Committee in March.

One thing that surprised him is the money and resources it takes to run for political office. “You have to fundraise,” he explained. “You need mailers, literature, and signs. It gets expensive pretty quickly. I raised almost $1800 – not bad for a local race. But I noticed that wealthier people were more likely to give you money. Every dollar counts, so wealthier candidates are more likely to get elected. Plus, you can’t be your average middle-class person working a normal job and be able to take the kind of time off to campaign properly, especially if you’re running for national office.”

Intrigued by the behind-the-scenes realities of money in politics, Rousseau delved into research that he used for a paper entitled "Takes Money to Make Money: The Correlation between Personal Wealth and Campaign Contributions.” He got a grant through Keene State’s Center for Creative Inquiry (CCI) to present his research at the Midwest Political Science Association’s annual meeting in Chicago in April (“One of the largest and most reputable conferences in the field,” according to Associate Professor of Political Science Philip Barker).

Rousseau postulated that the wealthier the candidate, the more likely his or her social circle will connect them to others of wealth; therefore, the larger the contributions that candidate would receive. He waded through the financial disclosure statements of over 60 candidates for US Senate during the 2016 elections.

“While personal wealth was very relevant when I ran for state rep for Raymond last November, my regression results from my research showed that, at least in Senate races, wealth doesn’t necessarily correlate with contributions,” he reported. He believes that probably has something to do with the fact that individual senators now are so wealthy themselves (“It’s called the ‘Millionaires Club’ for a reason,” he pointed out).

Rousseau plans to attend law school after spending a year between now and then working as a paralegal. In light of that goal, his research experience was invaluable. He understands the subtleties of campaign financing much better now, and doing the detailed research and extensive writing for his paper have given him just the kind of experience he’ll need as a paralegal.