Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another Example of the Cash / Votes Conundrum

So, the Washington Post had an article today highlighting how Kay Hagan, a Senator from North Carolina, was the only Democrat to vote against the recently passed tobacco regulation legislation (N.C. Tobacco Farmers Find Friend in State's New Senator.) Now, before I go too far down this path, let me make it clear that this is not a post about the merits or demerits of tobacco legislation. Personally, I'm for regulating tobacco. I support efforts to reduce the burdens on our health care system caused by this product.

However, as long time readers of the blog might suspect, I do NOT support the ongoing speculations and cynicism in media reports about the motives of elected officials in their voting decisions. Sure, there are many examples of wrong doing by elected officials and we're all a little jaded by the political process. But does every story really have to try to tie an elected official's voting record to campaign contributions?

In this example, the Post notes that Kay Hagan took $19,200 from tobacco interests to help finance her Senate race. What the Post does not point out is that she raised a total of over $8.5 million for that cycle. Her tobacco money equaled approximately .2% of her overall funds. The same article notes that there are 50,000 people directly employed by tobacco in the state, which is about .8% of the employable population (assuming people under 18 and over 65 aren't working). This is a $7 billion industry in the state. Does it even make sense to suggest that she voted the way she did because of the money for her campaign, as many people have? (although this is not, I should be clear, what the Post said). Why can't we believe that she did it for her constituents?

In fact, she raised more money from individuals associated with EMILY's List, MoveOn.org and the health care industry than she got from tobacco. Her going against these "monied interests" seems to be a bigger story here and clearly those groups are not happy with her position on these issues (although she has been known as a long time tobacco supporter, so I'm not sure they're surprised).

The point here is that we already have an electorate that feels beaten down by special interests and powerless in the face of money and lobbying in the political process. These types of stories and inferences aren't helping. We can disagree with the decisions some politicians make -- and I do, frequently. But I really wish we wouldn't ALWAYS paste everyone with the "bought off politician" label simply because they disagree with us or they represent a part of the country with different interests from our own.  

It sounds terribly naive, I know, but I believe it is possible that many politicians do truly believe that what they are doing is in the best interest of their constituents. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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