Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Campaign Contributors: NOT Trying to Buy Off Legislators

Conventional wisdom suggests that those who make big campaign contributions expect big things in return. Yet scientific evidence suggests otherwise. A recent article in the Washington Post titled "Big Political Donors Just Looking for Favors? Apparently Not" highlights research done by the Center for Responsive Politics on political contributors.

The organization's report suggests that the "investments" organizations make in campaigns are really quite small considering the potential impact policy proposals might have on their ability to do business. The financial services industry, for example, only invested about $123 million in the campaigns. While that seems like a lot, it's chump change compared to the $700 billion being wielded by the government -- $700 billion that will determine the industry's structure far in to the future.

As the article author points out:

"If you thought campaign contributions bought you goodwill, and you knew that decisions made in the next couple of years might be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in potential profits and losses, wouldn't you be willing to "invest" a lot more in the outcome?"

Sure, some might argue that this simply points out that politicians can be bought for cheap. But I'm not one of those people. Perhaps the more important lesson to take from this is that money simply doesn't play as big a role in legislative decision making as many Americans think it does. In many cases, those seeking to elect certain legislators over others are simply trying to ensure a favorable environment for their issues in the next Congress: they want to elect members of Congress that ALREADY understand and agree with their views, not "buy off" those that don't.

Even more important is the recognition that regardless of how people feel about money in the political process, everyone has an even more powerful tool at their disposal. It's called constituency. Now get out there and use it -- and happy advocating!

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