The
July 19, 2003 10:26 PM   Subscribe

Campaign Donations Sway Lawmakers' Votes. Is this really news? I doubt it, but it's interesting to see the AP's analysis of campaign donations and representatives' votes on related issues. More interestingly, see how your Congressperson stacks up.
posted by Vidiot (28 comments total)

 
::cough:: RIAA
posted by four panels at 10:32 PM on July 19, 2003


Mmmm.... unlimited campaign contributions. "Free Speech" sure is expensive. I for one look forward to more riveting articles from the pages of No Shit, Sherlock Magazine.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:43 PM on July 19, 2003


Campaign Donations Sway Lawmakers' Votes

They haven't shown that. To show that, you'd need to show that the money changed them from a No to a Yes, or the other way.

What they've shown is that money and votes are correlated, which is indeed no surprise.

But, as always, correlation is not causation. The observed correlation is also consistent with groups giving money to legislators who were going to vote that way anyway, because they were going to vote that way.

People have tried to look into the distinction between buying votes and electioneering, but it turns out to be a very hard inferential problem. For instance, it's common for legislators to accept donations from industries in their districts, and then vote in ways that support the industry. Is that having your vote bought, or is that voting in the interests of your district?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:58 PM on July 19, 2003


Right on, ROU_X...I seriously doubt that any politicians' votes are ever "swayed" by money. If Senator Doe was going to vote NO on a measure to, for example, expand drilling rights in ANWAR, and then received X number of dollars from an oil company and subsequently voted YES...well, then that would be an example of $$$="buying votes."

But I don't recall something like that ever happening. Politicians may have flaws, faults, or such, but they're not so blatantly idiotic as to vote against their principles and stated beliefs just for money.
posted by davidmsc at 12:02 AM on July 20, 2003


Actually, the article is really disappointing. The author clearly knows nothing about confounding factors and causality. It's just as probable (actually, more probable) that these politicians predisposed pro-gun, etc., are given lots of 'sin money' so they can win their election.

But spinning it like the money is changing their votes sells more papers, err, wire stories...

It's far more likely that money is buying politicians into office than that the money is swaying politicians to vote away from how they otherwise would.

(on preview, err, what ROI said)
posted by kfury at 12:16 AM on July 20, 2003


It's just as probable (actually, more probable) that these politicians predisposed pro-gun, etc., are given lots of 'sin money' so they can win their election.

what's the difference

it's well-known that the people with the most money are the ones who win the elections

and it isn't difficult to see that announcing your candidacy and mentioning your stance on intellectual property infringement is going to get you backing from the recording industry artists of america

either way it is a fantastic whoring of our great nation's governance and a loss for us all
posted by kjh at 12:52 AM on July 20, 2003


What ROU_X, davidmscs, and kfury aid. The ignorance or dishonesty shown in the AP's headline is galling.
posted by gd779 at 12:57 AM on July 20, 2003


Politicians may have flaws, faults, or such, but they're not so blatantly idiotic as to vote against their principles and stated beliefs just for money.

i pity the man who, in this day and age, still labors under the misapprehension that any politician is in possession of 'principles'. 'principles' are what is being bought and sold here.
posted by quonsar at 2:55 AM on July 20, 2003


Right on, ROU_X...

Hey, I didn't say I was on your side here. I just like pointing out thorny inferential problems, because they're my stock in trade to some limited extent.

I seriously doubt that any politicians' votes are ever "swayed" by money.

It would be, for most legislators, nigh-on impossible to pay them to support something that their constituents oppose in any numbers (or vice versa). But for areas where their constituents quite legitimately don't give a damn, and aren't likely to give a damn, and the legislator himself doesn't much give a damn either way, it can probably make a difference. If you really don't give a shit, and the people back home don't give a shit, you might as well trade your vote for something that you or your constituents do give a shit about -- whether that might be a vote for your bill that nobody else gives a rat's ass about, or a campaign check, or less savory things will of course vary.

It's also the case that most of the time money wouldn't be spent to make something happen, but to make something go away. And making things go away is a damn sight easier than making them happen, and you only need a relative few votes to do it (ie, get a committee to drop a bill).

Part of why the question of money in politics is inferentially hard is that for the most part, members of Congress are not dumb as a box of rocks. Even if they were taking money to change a vote, they'd work hard to preserve uncertainty about what was really going on -- which is to say, they'd signal-jam.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:58 AM on July 20, 2003


it's well-known that the people with the most money are the ones who win the elections

To the extent that's true (and that's a very limited extent, just ask Messrs Huffington or Perot), it's just another endogeneity problem.

Are candidates winning because they have the most money, or are they getting the most money because everyone predicts they will win? How would you sort it out?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:02 AM on July 20, 2003


I seriously doubt that any politicians' votes are ever "swayed" by money.

I want to live in your world.
posted by rushmc at 4:16 AM on July 20, 2003


This is exactly why we need campaign finance reforms. For Congressman, no camaign finances. Make them go door to door if they want votes, and absolutely no donations from any corporate entity.
posted by benjh at 5:38 AM on July 20, 2003


Publicly funded campaigns. I could get behind that.
posted by Cerebus at 6:50 AM on July 20, 2003


but they're not so blatantly idiotic as to vote against their principles and stated beliefs just for money.

Americans are so naive. It is their most endearing and fateful quality.
posted by the fire you left me at 7:59 AM on July 20, 2003


Publicly funded campaigns. I could get behind that.

Having my taxes pay for the propagation of ideas I find detestable and dangerous. I could get behind—

Hey, wait a minute...!
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:36 AM on July 20, 2003


On preview, the polar opposite of what davidmsc said.
posted by goethean at 9:54 AM on July 20, 2003


This is exactly why we need campaign finance reforms. For Congressman, no camaign finances. Make them go door to door if they want votes

So you're saying you want only the rich to run good campaigns? That's the logical consequence of what you're suggesting -- people who have their own bankrolls outdoing everyone else.

If you mean actually forbidding people to spend their own money, that will never in a zillion years get past the courts. Part of what the first amendment is there to do is keep the government from making you shut up, especially about political matters. The only way you can limit people's own spending is if they agree to do so, usually as a link to public funding.

and absolutely no donations from any corporate entity

I hate to break it to you, me bucko, but that's been the law for twenty-odd years now. Labor unions too.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:17 AM on July 20, 2003


Having my taxes pay for the propagation of ideas I find detestable and dangerous. I could get behind-

Yes. I'm aware of this consequence-- I'd be paying for W's re-election campaign, albeit indirectly, which gives me the urge to take a shower-- but anything else is, IMHO, worse. The current system of politicians purchased by monied interests is simply corrupt. A simple ban on soft money leads to plutocracy, as does contribution limits-- only the rich can afford to run under either arrangement.

Publicly funded campaigns is closer to fair.
posted by Cerebus at 4:12 PM on July 20, 2003


Publicly funded campaigns is closer to fair.

The trouble is, it forces the government to decide what constitutes a "legitimate" political party, who deserves funding, how much funding they deserve, etc. This works in the European system, but under American free speech law it's likely to be unconstitutional.
posted by gd779 at 4:24 PM on July 20, 2003


The observed correlation is also consistent with groups giving money to legislators who were going to vote that way anyway, because they were going to vote that way.

Except for the fact that large corporations (Microsoft, for example) give millions of dollars to the central coffers of both the democratic and the republican parties. It also helps to remember that money doesn't directly buy votes -- it buys access. Pump a candidate full of money and you and your lobbyists can have a private get together with them wherein you discuss your pet issues and present powerful arguments. Then, too, there's the issue of unconscious bias -- having a financial stake in something subtly sways your opinion of it (remember the euphoric economic optimism of 2000?).
posted by Tlogmer at 4:43 PM on July 20, 2003


Publicly funded campaigns is closer to fair

Honest Bob for Congress! I've been here in Footown all my life, and I've spent 29 years selling you the finest late-model used cars in the 5-county area! You know my motto -- Our prices are insane! No reasonable offer will be refused! We've gotta moooooooooove these cars along! And now I'm running for Congress, so I'm having a big sale and slaaaaashing prices! So remember, vote for Honest Bob, the used-car king!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:48 PM on July 20, 2003


ROU: I'm aware that such a system can be abused. You'll note that I said "closer to fair," not "would be absolutely fair with no possibility of abuse or advantage now or ever forevermore, amen."

But IMHO, it would be better.

Thanks for putting words in my mouth, though. It's always a pleasure to be forced to play straw man for some nitwit's "point."
posted by Cerebus at 7:10 PM on July 20, 2003


We also need to keep in mind that even if the money doesn't affect the decisions of our elected representatives, it most certainly changes who our elected representatives are. Of course the NRA is going to give it's money to those who support gun rights. If they thought they could change the minds of elected officials who otherwise supported gun control, they'd give the money to the Democrats to influence those votes, because they've already got most of the Republicans in the bag. No, the purpose of the money is not to change minds, but rather to get your chosen candidates elected. The relationship between contributions and votes in the Congress is certainly tenuous, as noted above. The connection between contributions and elections, however, is rock solid.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:26 PM on July 20, 2003


If they thought they could change the minds of elected officials who otherwise supported gun control, they'd give the money to the Democrats to influence those votes, because they've already got most of the Republicans in the bag. No, the purpose of the money is not to change minds, but rather to get your chosen candidates elected.

That bears repeating. But I'm reminded of something that former MeFite Rebecca Blood once said:

"I know that candidates, while supported by special interests, are elected by people. I believe that many others have forgotten this simple fact. If we were informed, it wouldn't matter how much any politician spent. Only a people content to be spoonfed platitudes could be so swayed by political advertising. In this sense, we get the government we deserve."

The solution to bad speech isn't repression, restriction, or financial control. Nor is it government interference. It's more freedom, and more free speech. And it's our responsibility to make sure that the best ideas win.
posted by gd779 at 8:42 PM on July 20, 2003


>I seriously doubt that any politicians' votes are ever "swayed" by money.

Nonsense. Funny how quickly the consitituents are, in the end, the ones trying to legitimize their system.

Money buys access, votes, and legislation in many different ways. Its the status quo in Washington. Considering most votes fall by party-line a little money can go a long way.

Someone once did a report regarding campaign money put in vs money gotten out in legislation and it turns out that "investing" on the federal level is the best investment you can ever make, by magnitudes. (cant find link)
For example, Chevron Texaco has given the republican party more than $5.2 million since 1990. Under Bush' stimulus plan, they stood to receive around $572 million in the form of a retroactive tax cut. Enron has given $5.5 million during the same period, and they stood to receive $254 million. General electric stood to receive over $600 million in return for there contributions of less than $2 million. The list could go on extensively. It seems obvious that the money spent to get a candidate elected is much less than the eventual pay backs.
more
Democratic consultant Darry Sragow, who runs Assembly campaigns, acknowledges: "Contributions clearly do affect policy decisions

"Because if you vote against the interests of someone who has been a significant supporter, it only makes sense that person will become less of a significant supporter — or a politician's worst nightmare, a significant opponent. You vote against those interests at your peril."

The Capitol spin is that money only buys access. "Nonsense," says reformer Bob Stern, president of the Institution for Governmental Studies. "These are rational people. It buys influence or they wouldn't be wasting their money."
In fact, if you go against a big donor your own party will be pissed
In 1996, Eli Lilly, the big Republican-supporting drug firm, was scared that a Clinton reelection would shut them out; a company executive, however, knew this was fixable: "We can get back into this by giving $50,000 to $100,000" to the Democrats, he said. Former Sen. Paul Simon has noted that it's not just face time these big bucks produce. He cited a special provision enacted for Federal Express when he was in the Senate as colleagues chastised him for opposing a big donor.
So we have lobbyists and an ex-Senator openly talking about corruption yet the peanut gallery still can't pull its head from the sand? If you believe it just buys "access" (something that shouldnt even be for sale in the first place) makes you sleep better at night, fine, but that doesn't mean its true.
posted by skallas at 11:13 PM on July 20, 2003


Heh, some of you remind me of Kay from the Godfather:

Michael: My father is no different than any other powerful man -- any man who's responsible for other people like a senator or president.

KAY: You know how naive you sound? Senators and presidents don't have men killed.
posted by skallas at 11:28 PM on July 20, 2003


There's a guy like that in Seattle, ROU_Xenophobe, who legally changed his name to "Mike the Mover" so he could run for office and get his business name into the voter's guide.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:57 AM on July 21, 2003


Except for the fact that large corporations (Microsoft, for example) give millions of dollars to the central coffers of both the democratic and the republican parties.

To clarify what I was saying -- certain corporations give money to both parties simultaneously.
posted by Tlogmer at 3:10 PM on July 21, 2003


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