Buying votes or time

Very interesting op-ed piece by Shankar Vedantam in the Washington Post today about the effect of “campaign contributions.” He argues that the main impact of these contributions on elected officials isn’t to get them to change their mind about issues (which is why groups rarely contribute to politicians on the opposite side of the aisle from them) but rather to change their prioritization. He gives an interesting example, recounted by a former aide to Sen. Daschle about how they were working on a hunger relief bill when a drought started in South Dakota, and they context-switched to work on a relief bill for dairy farmers. According to this aide,

Daschle did not stop caring about hunger because he was working on dairy issues. And he did not start working on dairy issues merely because of campaign contributions. He genuinely cared about dairy issues, too. Money that people in the dairy industry spent on campaign contributions and lobbying did not have to buy Daschle’s views — he was in their corner to begin with. But what campaign contributions and the subsidization of legislative work that lobbyists provide do obtain is a subtle alteration in politicians’ priorities

The article further backs this assertion by noting that the distribution of funds by groups favors politicians who already favor them, not politicians who are on the fence or on the other side.

The conclusions that derive from this are interesting: it means that you shouldn’t care too much about who’s funding politicians you don’t like (except insofar as you can use that to make political hay), but you should be very alert to see which other groups are funding the ones you do like; they’re the ones competing with you for actual slices of the politician’s efforts.

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Published in: on July 16, 2007 at 13:25  Comments (10)  
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10 Comments

  1. I adore this! I think i like it best because it is so finically sound. It is darn right thrifty. You need less money to have an effect on someone you already agree with. It minimizes the guilt, and appearance of guilt, for both the giver and the receiver. It consolidates power – lord,amazing all around.
    Truly wonderful,obvious and counter-intuitive in a perfect way.

  2. I adore this! I think i like it best because it is so finically sound. It is darn right thrifty. You need less money to have an effect on someone you already agree with. It minimizes the guilt, and appearance of guilt, for both the giver and the receiver. It consolidates power – lord,amazing all around.
    Truly wonderful,obvious and counter-intuitive in a perfect way.

  3. Another interesting conclusion is that a campaign contribution is evidence that a politician has a particular belief, since presumably otherwise the contribution would not have been made. And then, if enough contributions are made to a politician for causes you disagree with, that would then be reason to not vote for that candidate. So, whereas sites like ontheissues.org rank candidates based on quotes and votes, it would seem that sites that rank candidates based on who donates to them would be just as compelling if not more.

  4. Another interesting conclusion is that a campaign contribution is evidence that a politician has a particular belief, since presumably otherwise the contribution would not have been made. And then, if enough contributions are made to a politician for causes you disagree with, that would then be reason to not vote for that candidate. So, whereas sites like ontheissues.org rank candidates based on quotes and votes, it would seem that sites that rank candidates based on who donates to them would be just as compelling if not more.

  5. The main problem with that rule is that it’s gameable; you could smear a politician by contributing to them. Looking at which contributions they accept isn’t enough, either, since you could contribute to them through an innocent-looking shell which they wouldn’t suspect, but the enterprising young journalists that you later sic on them would figure out.

  6. The main problem with that rule is that it’s gameable; you could smear a politician by contributing to them. Looking at which contributions they accept isn’t enough, either, since you could contribute to them through an innocent-looking shell which they wouldn’t suspect, but the enterprising young journalists that you later sic on them would figure out.

  7. Of course, contributing to someone who agrees with your point of view also helps that person get elected in the first place. It’s not really buying a Senator so much as buying a Senate seat for your guy…

  8. Of course, contributing to someone who agrees with your point of view also helps that person get elected in the first place. It’s not really buying a Senator so much as buying a Senate seat for your guy…

  9. That is a beautifully insightful way of describing the process.

  10. That is a beautifully insightful way of describing the process.


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