Follow the money. I'll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that's all. Just... follow the money.
January 18, 2010 9:32 AM   Subscribe

It's time to find out who owns your democracy, and how they bought it. Do you feel like US campaign finance is hopelessly shrouded in mystery? Fear not citizen, there's a website for that: The Center for Responsive Politics has made available a well-organized, highly detailed database of their analysis of US campaign finance to shine a bright nonpartisan light on the green underbelly of US democracy.

A small sampling of the CRP's web database offerings: Finished with opensecrets.org? Here's a site that provides several tools for finding out where money is flowing specifically in US state elections. Or, if you prefer a more industry-specialized approach, Oil Change International provides an interesting searchable overview of which politicians have left oily fingerprints on American law and policy. Purists can also go straight to the source, the (slightly less user-friendly) US Federal Elections Commission website.

One idea for reducing the influence of campaign donors on elections is public campaign financing. For example, Public Campaign [WARNING: AUTOPLAY VIDEO] is an organization that seeks to enact systems across the USA that provide taxpayer-supplied nonpartisan financing to campaigning politicians (excerpt from PublicCampaign.org):
Rather than being forced to rely on special interest donors to pay for their campaigns, candidates have the opportunity to qualify for full public funding which ends their reliance on special interest campaign cash. Being freed from the money chase means they have more time to spend with constituents, talking about issues that matter to them. When they enter office, they can consider legislation on the merits, without worrying about whether they are pleasing well heeled donors and lobbyists.
In 2007, USA Today weighed in with a bit of point/counterpoint regarding public campaign financing, the former (in favor of public financing) provided by the editors, the latter (opposed) by Bradley Smith of the Center for Competitive Politics.

BREAKING NEWS:

Got a handle on how US campaign finance works right now? Well, stay tuned: The landscape of campaign finance may soon be fundamentally reshaped by the powerful hand of the US Supreme Court.

In Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (read here for a layman's description), the Supreme Court will issue an opinion that could dramatically reinterpret the McCain-Feingold by providing a new judicial definition of "political ad". Last June, the Supreme Court (including newly appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor) made the unusual decision to rehear oral arguments, indicating considerable difficulty in reaching a decision.

The Supreme Court was expected to issue a ruling last week, but the ivory tower remained silent on the matter. Campaign finance reform activists are left breathlessly sitting on the edge of their seats.

Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) weighs in on the pending Supreme Court case.

More opinion, news, and analysis on the subject.

Bonus: a light-hearted pictoral take on campaign finance reform.

Posted with apologies to non-US readers.
posted by Salvor Hardin (25 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ladies and gentlemen: Salvor's first FPP.

Well done, Sir.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:37 AM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ah, yes. Just so long as all of this is taken with a grain of salt.
posted by limeonaire at 9:39 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


See also.
posted by limeonaire at 9:41 AM on January 18, 2010


Nice post, thanks.

Also see FedSpending.org which is a project of OMB Watch, and Data.gov, which has been covered here previously.
posted by zarq at 9:42 AM on January 18, 2010


Also, previously, regarding lobbyists.
posted by zarq at 9:44 AM on January 18, 2010


I particularly had fun looking at the CRP's "money web". For instance, I found out that in the 2008 presidential elections, Goldman Sachs contributed $426,000 to Clinton, $474,000 to Obama, and $105,000 to McCain.

I'm not sure if that represents some kind of net corporate ideology, or just excellent forecasting.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:06 AM on January 18, 2010


I'm shocked that OpenSecrets hasn't been covered before... that site is fantastic.
posted by spiderskull at 10:06 AM on January 18, 2010


Been a fan of this site for a while. As a journalist, it's an invaluable resource. Great post.
posted by tiger yang at 10:16 AM on January 18, 2010


I'm not sure if that represents some kind of net corporate ideology, or just excellent forecasting.

It doesn't represent what you think it does.

The amount that Goldman Sachs itself donated in the 2008 election campaign was $0. By law.

The amounts being reported are:

(1) The amount of money donated individually by people who work at G-S.
(2) The amount of money donated individually by people whose spouses work at G-S.
(3) The amount of money donated by any G-S PACs, which can only donate money donated to them by individuals.

This is the same reason why you can find the "campaign donations" of the US State Department or the State of Tennessee on some campaign finance sites.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:27 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mm, I see. Clearly a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Thanks for the clarifcation ROU_Xenophobe.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:30 AM on January 18, 2010


I was working on a related FPP but I'll just throw these here instead.

In anticipation of the Supreme Court's decision allowing unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, Rep. Alan Grayson has introduced into Congress the following bills:

  • The Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act
  • The Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act
  • The Defund the Crooks Act
  • The End Political Kickbacks Act of 2009
  • H. R. 4433 To make the antitrust laws applicable to a political committee
  • H. R. 4435 To amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to prohibit any national securities exchange from effecting any transaction in a security issued by a corporation unless the corporation's registration with the exchange includes a certification that the corporation currently is in compliance with the provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 governing contributions and expenditures by corporations which were in effect with respect to elections held during 2008.

  • posted by scalefree at 10:34 AM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


    whoa, double post in a different kind of way, thanks, there goes plans to do laundry this evening
    posted by infini at 10:36 AM on January 18, 2010


    But my party is just and true, giving America back to the people any day now ... so it doesn't matter if they take money from lobbyists.

    Your party, on the other hand, is pure, unadulterated evil, and should all be run out of office immediately for their shameless pandering to special interest groups.
    posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:41 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


    scalefree

    Those are some awesome bill names.
    posted by madajb at 12:34 PM on January 18, 2010


    Neither side will unilaterally disarm with respect to free money. In the unlikely event that the SC decides that corporations can bribe with impunity, we need a constitutional amendment. We've needed one for a while.
    posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:09 PM on January 18, 2010


    Might be worth mentioning LittleSis, which connects a tremendous number of sources of public information to create a browsable network of politicians and their influencers.
    posted by with hidden noise at 1:23 PM on January 18, 2010


    The whole "money is speech" argument is fucking ludicrous on its face.

    If that's true, then $10 is speech and $10,000 is a megaphone from the front row. Free speech is binary - on or off, one man one voice. To allow the concept to be quantifiable is an affront to freedom of speech.

    People who can even consider this proposition are truly the people who "hate America".
    posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:03 PM on January 18, 2010


    The whole "money is speech" argument is fucking ludicrous on its face.

    If that's true, then $10 is speech and $10,000 is a megaphone from the front row. Free speech is binary - on or off, one man one voice. To allow the concept to be quantifiable is an affront to freedom of speech.

    People who can even consider this proposition are truly the people who "hate America".


    Well, just wait until the SCOTUS announces their decision in the Citizens United case. We just may find that money = speech after all, and that the corporate Wall Of Sound drowns out all else.

    And yes, that will be a day of Hate For America indeed. *sigh*
    posted by hippybear at 2:14 PM on January 18, 2010


    Grrr. How did I miss the references to that case in the FPP? Jeez. I need new glasses or reading lessons or something.
    posted by hippybear at 2:25 PM on January 18, 2010


    Good to see that while we haven't outlawed bribery through the election system, we're at least keeping track of it.
    posted by mullingitover at 2:50 PM on January 18, 2010


    Scalefree: "Rep. Alan Grayson has introduced into Congress the following bills: "

    I fucking love Alan Grayson.
    posted by mullingitover at 2:52 PM on January 18, 2010


    Bookmarked.
    posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:32 PM on January 18, 2010


    The SCOTUS ruling today just made all of this obsolete. Want to know who owns your government? Too bad, the corporations don't have to tell you who they bought or for how much.
    posted by T.D. Strange at 1:24 PM on January 21, 2010


    Here's an article on the ruling.
    posted by aniola at 7:00 PM on January 21, 2010


    Alan Grayson is a fool.
    posted by bigwoopdeedoo at 5:35 AM on January 22, 2010


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