You Get What You Pay For…


…or is it that you pay for what you want?

The AP has done a study correlating congressional voting records with congressional donors. The results are online here and include:

_Supporters of doctor-backed legislation limiting noneconomic damages for patients injured by medical malpractice averaged $1.41 in campaign contributions from physicians and other health professionals for every $1 given to lawmakers against the measure. Opponents of the bill received $1.85 from lawyers, who objected to curbs on awards, for every $1 given to those who voted yes.

Lawyers gave $21.3 million to House members during the 2002 campaign while health professionals gave $16.7 million.

_House members who sided with trial lawyers and voted against shifting class action lawsuits from state courts to more restrictive federal courts averaged of $1.63 from attorneys for every $1 given to legislation supporters. Businesses contributed $276.7 million to House members, compared with $21.3 million for lawyers.

_Backers of legislation making it harder for consumers to erase their debts in bankruptcy court received, on average, $2.13 from the credit card and finance industries for every $1 given to bill opponents. Those industries gave $2 million; consumer groups gave $1,298.

_Lawmakers voting for an energy bill that would open to drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska averaged $4.64 from the oil and gas industry for every $1 given to those who voted no. Opponents averaged $12.99 from environmental groups for every $1 contributed to bill supporters. The oil industry gave $5.8 million; environmentalists, $751,079.

_House members who voted to overturn Bush administration efforts to rewrite rules governing overtime, which unions said would take the premium pay away from as many as 8 million workers, received $10.40 from labor for every $1 given to lawmakers who opposed the motion. Unions gave $33.7 million in 2002 to business' $276.7 million.

A while back, Reason interviewed maverick Federal Elections Commission member Bradley Smith. Read his contrarian take on gutting the First Amendment (a.k.a. campaign finance reform) here.

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  1. The problem with this article and the statistics it refers to is that it implies causation without proving it. Yes, campaign donations are positively associated with the policy positions held by the people receiving those donations.

    The implications are that the donations buy the policy support. In fact, this implied relationship could as easily be reversed: People donate money to politicians whose positions are ALREADY KNOWN to be favorable.

    For example, if I’m GM, I give money to John Dingell because I know that he’ll block any bill to raise fuel economy standards. This is wholly different from my giving money to a tabla rasa politician so that I can buy his vote.

    This is a classic example of the misuse of statistics. No causation is proved here.

  2. I’m shocked that politicians are peddling their influence!

  3. I’m shocked that politicians are peddling their influence as well!

  4. Me too!

  5. Pat Cameltoe said it best. Without controlling for other variables, the study doesn’t prove any causation (much less the direction)…

  6. If one were to take it as a given that influence via campain contributions is odious, maybe it’s not necessary to prove causation since it’s only common sense that if some positions were more profitable than others, there would be greater incentive for politicians to adopt those positions. Now, I understand the freedom issues, which take precedent IMHO (plus there’ll always be loopholes cause where there’s a will there’s a way), but I’m thinking right now that the “prove the causation” issue is a red herring when you think about it in terms of economics and incentives….

  7. Dostoevsky –

    I think it’s an important question whether our politicians are in fact corrupt. Common sense would tell us that many of them are.

    But this article throws up scientific-looking statistical evidence and, statistically, it’s invalid inasmuch as it merely demonstrates correlation, not causation.

    I mean, my reaction to the story was a big “SO WHAT?!” What would you expect? Look, let’s assume there is some correlation between donations and policy positions. (Otherwise, why would anybody ever give money to a politician?)

    That relationship would either consist of people giving money to politicians whose positions they agreed with, or it would be people giving money to politicians they hoped to buy off. Either way, you’d absolutely expect correlation. This is a dog-bites-man story if I ever read one.

    Personally, to divorce ideology from specific influence, I’d like to see a campaign contributions clearinghouse that would “launder” contributions first. So, if you wanted to give $100,000 to Lieberman’s campaign, you’d send it to a federal agency (gasps all around) that would deposit it into an escrow account for Lieberman, and then distribute it monthly or quarterly, minus the names of the contributors. That way, individuals could support whomever they wanted, without the expectation that they could purchase influence.

  8. Um, are we supposed to be surprised by this? I thought everyone knew this was going on already, hence the campaign finance reform stuff.

  9. Hey, as the great libertarian Bill Clinton taught us, it’s not corruption if you don’t go to jail for it. And even if it is corruption (which it isn’t) the First Amendment says it is part of our cherished freedoms. And even if it is corruption (which it isn’t) and the First Amendment applies less clearly to the checks a corporation can write than what an individual can say (which it doesn’t, and who owns this country anyway?) those campaign reform people are just trying to stop the energizing turnover we have now in House elections every two years. That’s right, it’s incumbent protection!

  10. Political contributions are constitutionally protected as free speech under the first amendment. Campaign finance reform will be struck down as unconstitutional (altho given their recent disgraceful showing I have my doubts about the Supreme Court’s jaunt into judicial activism and liberal interpretation).

  11. Who can I buy for $5.27?

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