Students gain research skills by assisting with professor’s project

Three students recently assisted Associate Professor of Politics and Government Henrik Schatzinger on a book project. Schatzinger’s project involves the effect of outside money on local political campaigns in large U.S. cities.

Erin Bailey ’21 of Walworth, Wisconsin, Payton Rahn ’22 of Omro, Wisconsin, and Ali Hamza ’21 of Pakistan met with Schatzinger once a week during the summer over Zoom to discuss the progress of the project and receive new assignments.

The Citizens United ruling in 2010 made it possible for outside money to heavily influence local political campaigns, and yet there has been little research on the subject to see how the campaigns are impacted. This project is meant to address that gap, Schatzinger says. “The book shows how the U.S. Supreme Court decision is changing local democracy and identifies why some reform efforts are successful and effective, and why some cities increasingly succumb to the power of big money,” he says.

Bailey says she focused primarily on the city of Los Angeles and its school board elections for all districts from 2010-2019 and the expenditures from those campaigns and from independent sources. She recorded the data to be included in future publications on the subject as well as researching which outside groups donated and how they work to achieve their goals. The final part of Bailey’s research involved analyzing the finance report of a candidate from each election to see what they spent money on.

Bailey had been familiar with how outside money can influence a federal election from previous politics classes, but this research highlighted the impact on local leaders. She says this work allowed her to develop skills in research and statistics and confirmed her interest in pursuing a career in politics.

Rahn’s research involved identifying groups and individuals who contributed to various local elections to “better understand trends revolving around the incredible amounts of dark money that contributes to outcomes of elections at the local level,” she says.

She says that although she did learn about the campaign process and how outside money can affect it, the greater lesson for her was to learn to “adapt to circumstances beyond one’s control in terms of COVID-19,” which will apply to life at large.

She says the experience “opened my eyes to the wider political landscape that I exist within.” She plans to attend law school, and learning about the world of politics will be helpful.

Hamza says the project allowed him to finalize plans to attend graduate school, potentially for a master’s degree in public policy. He adds that the experience helped improve his research skills and skills in inquiry and analysis.

Jillian Heidenreich ’22
Monroe, Wisconsin

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