Looking Beyond Campaign Contributions

This is the second in a series of posts that will explore some of the leading organizations from around the country that are engaged in unearthing and combating the influence of money in the political process.

The influence of corporate money in politics goes way beyond campaign contributions. Like the blogger who impersonated billionaire David Koch for a conversation with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, money in politics is usually about gaining access to a lawmaker’s ear.

Here are some other examples:

Variety of contributions: company dollars flow to campaigns in a variety of ways, such as from executives, company political action committees, and trade associations.

Revolving door: when legislators, staffers, and regulators shuttle back and forth between the private and public sectors, incentives are created for decision-makers to undermine strong laws and regulations of corporate practices with the expectation of lucrative employment in the future.

Outside spending or independent expenditures: long-held rules limiting the role of corporate funding in political campaigns were rolled back by the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. This allows corporations to spend as much money as they want to help political candidates win elections. Political spending by corporations that occur outside of election campaigns should be monitored closely.

Lobbyists: companies may have armies of lobbyists deployed across the country whose goal is to gain access to lawmakers.

Fundraisers: political fundraisers are frequently held by a politician’s rich supporters. Sometimes this includes corporations, their executives or PACs, or trade associations. Not only is this a productive source of funding for a politician, but a great way to ensure access by the host.

Meetings: appointment books illustrate who lawmakers make time to meet with.

When conducting research on the role of money in politics, here are few things to look for:

Out-of-district: are campaigns being funded from out-of-district or even out-of-state donors? If so, the politician can be placed on the defensive and should be forced to identify who they really represent.

Strategic giving: rather than focusing on dollar amounts, it can be more illuminating to think about who receives money. Companies have the resources to strategically target donations to lawmakers who sit on committees that have the power to shape a bill that might impact company profits.

Earmarks: are politicians submitting federal earmarks that benefit the same companies that have given them contributions?

Donors that “smell” wrong: see if large political contributions are being reporting from multiple people with the same address or from those with no prior history of political giving.

Money in Politics series

  1. Money in Politics (introduction)
  2. Looking Beyond Campaign Contributions
  3. National Institute On Money In State Politics
  4. Center For Responsive Politics
  5. MOOSE: Monied Out-of-State Executives (case study)
  6. Public Campaign
  7. Common Cause
  8. MapLight.org
  9. Sunlight Foundation
  10. Good Jobs First
  11. Disinfecting Banker’s Day on the Hill (case study)
  12. Project Vote Smart
  13. Hitting the Jackpot (case study)
  14. Democracy North Carolina (case study)
  15. Connecticut Citizen Action Group (case study)

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