Is Direct Democracy Good or Bad for Corporations and Unions?

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The initiative and referendum were intended to curtail the power of organized interest groups, yet business groups account for more spending on ballot measures than any other group by far. Does this mean that direct democracy has become a tool for corporations to buy favorable legislation? This paper reports four types of evidence suggesting that the answer is no: analysis of the content of the universe of state-level initiatives in the United States from 1904 to 2021 shows that antibusiness initiatives were more common than probusiness initiatives, analysis of contribution patterns for California ballot measures from 2000 to 2020 shows that business groups more often opposed than supported initiatives, abnormal stock returns on election days show that corporate contributors earned positive abnormal returns when initiatives failed and negative abnormal returns when they passed, and for all three types of evidence business groups fared better with ballot measures proposed by legislatures. I find similar results for unions.

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