Money, Politics, and Ethics

A can of worms or a rat’s nest are the words that come to mind when I think about the subject of money and politics. When is it legitimately supporting the candidate of one’s choice? When is it the legitimate lobbying  by a constituency to present their views on a bill before Congress? When is it the buying and selling of influence? It’s a serious problem in America and it’s a dilemma because no one seems to have the answers and the politicians are hardly capable of policing themselves. They say that money talks. Well, the amount of money involved is enough to drown out almost any protest against it. Let’s take a look at just how much money is being used to legitimately or illegitimately influence the political process in America. 

Open, a part of the Center for Responsive Politics, makes it their business to follow the money.  If there is anything you want to know about campaign finances or lobbying expenditures., they have it all  (providing the information is in some public record) in an easy to find format. The table below is a tally of campaign contributions for the recent mid-term elections. Note that the total amount of funds raised for the House and the Senate together is over $1.5 billion. We’re talking some serious money here.

Party No. of Cands Total Raised Total Spent Total Cash
on Hand
from PACs
from Indivs
All 1887 $972,097,946 $844,995,407 $291,397,244 $290,438,027 $582,211,419
Dems 615 $464,939,555 $421,559,821 $151,237,249 $177,845,988 $263,185,846
Repubs 1117 $502,595,920 $419,170,255 $139,706,634 $112,387,700 $316,301,899
Party No. of Cands Total Raised Total Spent Total Cash
on Hand
from PACs
from Indivs
All 307 $667,596,308 $608,964,299 $149,835,348 $84,785,008 $431,318,577
Dems 105 $294,002,310 $288,717,613 $58,655,162 $42,289,559 $197,590,752
Repubs 155 $355,765,589 $303,570,178 $89,664,233 $40,179,250 $219,310,109

When I decided to see where campaign contributions come from , I found this table with 20 years of data starting in 1989. This only the 20 largest contributors and it reveals some interesting information. Eleven of the top 20 are unions. The largest single contributor over this period was AT&T, Inc. at more than $45 million. However, if we sum the contributions of the two teachers unions,  National Education Association and American Teachers Federation,  it comes to over $59 million making teachers unions the biggest of all  contributors. Also, the Tilt column indicates the Democrats attract most of the heavy hitters.

Rank Organization Total ’89-’09 Dem % Repub % Tilt
1 AT&T Inc $45,662,025 44% 55%
2 ActBlue $43,181,888 99% 0%   
3 American Fedn of State, County & Municipal Employees $43,026,461 98% 1%   
4 National Assn of Realtors $37,623,999 48% 50%
5 Goldman Sachs $32,899,102 62% 37%
6 Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers $32,685,295 97% 2%   
7 American Assn for Justice $32,683,029 90% 8%   
8 National Education Assn $31,114,380 93% 6%   
9 Laborers Union $29,816,800 92% 7%   
10 Carpenters & Joiners Union $28,945,308 89% 10%  
11 Service Employees International Union $28,889,882 95% 3%   
12 Teamsters Union $28,876,759 93% 6%   
13 American Federation of Teachers $28,224,891 98% 0%   
14 Communications Workers of America $27,958,106 98% 0%   
15 Citigroup Inc $27,594,316 50% 49%
16 American Medical Assn $26,854,670 39% 60%
17 United Auto Workers $26,509,902 98% 0%   
18 Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union $26,151,277 98% 0%   
19 National Auto Dealers Assn $25,613,758 32% 67%
20 United Parcel Service $24,994,164 36% 62%

( Note: Sorry abou how this table turned out. I doesn’t fit my template. If you want see it as it should be, I cross post at The Freedom Pub. There’s no problem there. ) 

But  what about lobbying? Well, that’s where the real serious money comes into play. Without boring you with more tables,  what I found out at Open Secrets. org is that for the year 1999 through July 26, 2010, a total od $27.97 billion was spent on lobbying. For the last five years the average has been over $3 billion per year.

So what is a poor Senator or Congressman to do with all that money being wafted under his/hers nose?  What I know is that for someone or some entity to buy influence, someone has to be selling influence. The ethics committees of the House and Senate are more show than anything else. We all know that. Are there any options out there that have a chance of working? If there are, I’m not aware of them and frankly I don’t have anything to offer. If you have any ideas, please, let’s hear them and let’s talk about them. All this money is definitely unhealthy for our political system.

4 thoughts on “Money, Politics, and Ethics

  1. Good info. How can we drain the swamp? Who knows. I would start with taking the policing of ethics out of the hands of the people who are ethically challenged. Beyond that, I have no idea.

  2. This is nuts. However, we have to be careful in what we choose to ban or regulate. Once you give more power to regulate, it will be perverted by the process.

    Also, we have to look at the Constitutionality of any regulation of campaign reform.

    Thanks for an interesting look at the money!

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