New Tool Seeks To Uncover Lobbying's Role In Political Results

from the the-corruption-index? dept

Larry Lessig recently directed our attention to a new project, called Congressional Closeup, that seeks to uncover political narratives in “strange” voting patterns by our elected officials through automated means. For example, in a demo (covering a story from the last Congress), it looks at lobbying dollars and how that may have influenced a particular vote:

There was some strange behavior in Congress today as several Democrats went against their own party and voted with Republicans to table the Democrat sponsored Dorgan amendment to the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (S.3217). The official purpose of Byron Dorgan [D-ND]’s amendment (according to the Library of Congress) is To ban naked credit default swaps.

At first glance, it seems like many of the rogue voters were influenced by lobbies.

For instance, a group of 3 Senators Sen. Dodd [D-CT], Sen. Carper [D-DE], and Sen. Johnson [D-SD], who voted with Republicans to table the amendment, have individually received more campaign contributions than other Senators (see Table 1 below).

Who knows how effective the tool will be, but it’s nice to see more people trying to dig into the story (or stories) behind the story when it comes to voting — especially when it comes to things like lobbying dollars. The project is being put together by a CS PhD student and it would be nice if it actually was effective at both uncovering important stories and also in making those stories known.

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Comments on “New Tool Seeks To Uncover Lobbying's Role In Political Results”

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epiphanous coward says:

When is the Truth Illigal?

There should be nothing but praise for one that sets about the task of illuminating. Its all there. But however, so complex is the web, that for most it is unfathomable. If the tool renders the information and how it relates to the process of their decision making discoverable, then it should be commended.

Since when is the truth illegal?
Should they seek to quash these efforts, you KNOW America and the free world is in decline.

Yay bring on the Tyranny!

epiphanous cowhard says:

Re: Re: When is the Truth illegal?

O.K. you got me there buddy!

There is a famous historical court case where the truth was punishable by death that I recall too. Where truth was deemed a terrorist threat.

I think it was Emperor versus Jesus Christ, unfortunately the case was complicated by predominately dissenting jury that begged for the death penalty.

Anyhow, best we don’t bring that up huh?

DoxAvg says:

Re: Re: Be careful with correlation and causation

That line of thought is very, very dangerous. If, for example, Senator $FOO is an outspoken supporter of investment in sustainable farming, then it follows that when $BAR and $BAZ (both huge companies in the sustainable farming market) are going to choose to spend their money supporting him, not Senator $NIX who thinks that all farming should be outsourced. Suddenly it makes $FOO look dirty, even when he’s entirely on the up-and-up.

DS says:

Is it me, or does this ‘tool’ only seem to report when someone doesn’t vote along party lines? If so, this tool is less than useful, because it sets up the assumption that only individual politicians can be bought off but parties cannot.

Either way, lobbying is a touchy situation. How do you legislate against a basic right of the constitution? I’m not sure what the best solution is, other than to only elect honest politicians, which cannot happen due to the nature of a politics.

Although, instant run off voting would help.

DS says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sure, whatever, but someone who works for one, or represents one suddenly loses all freedom of speech?

And you do realize that the SCOTUS finding that I’m guessing you are referring to was basically the difference between Michael Moore releasing a movie months before an election, and a group of individuals who incorporated themselves to release a movie months before an election?

Anon says:

Real Problem

The real problem is not the lobbying & campaign contributions. It’s the cushy, 6-7 figure jobs awaiting these congressman when they leave office. It’s hard to ask someone to vote their conscience when they realize their future income and family’s well being may be put at stake should they go against their actual masters.

Also, there really isn’t a solution to this problem as we can’t dictate to these people what they do after leaving public service.

ex-US Senate Aide says:

Tool v. Reality

If the tool is to be used properly, then some understanding of the role of Committees of jurisdiction should be added to the analysis. While not condoning the blatant attempts by monied interests to alter Congressional voting habits with campaign donations, all should note that it is not surprising that the outgoing and incoming Senate Banking Committee Chairmen at the time of the vote on the Dorgan amendment to ban default swap schemes, Dodd and Johnson, would typically receive the lion share of industry donations. Ergo, they would have gotten the contributions with or without voting for the amendment.

Sen. Carper represents Delaware, which is arguably the most ” corporate “blue sky” state; he does not sit on the Committee, but you should expect a his floor votes to most often reflect Delaware’s extreme lack of financial transparency (see e.g.,

Anonymous Coward says:

This appears mostly to be a “techdirt” style tool: you start with your desired result, and make the data fit. You should also ignore any data that cannot be bent into fitting the desired result.

As one person noted above, Delaware is a corporate haven state, with limited taxes, oversight, and favorable liablity laws and situations. Could it be that Delaware might also have a fair number of people employed in the very industry of credit swaps? Might it be that this vote represents the will of the constituents they represent?

Only assuming that it’s donations driving the votes is a flawed basic assumption.

I don’t know what is more disappointing: Lessig for writing about what appears to be a flawed concept, or Techdirt for parroting it without thinking.

TheStupidOne says:

Better Option

Campaign Finance Reform Bill of 2011 (Written by Me)

No individual holding a public office, appointed or elected (Public Official), or actively campaigning for an elected office (Candidate) shall accept any gift of money, goods, or services from any individual or group that is not currently eligible to vote in any electoral district represented by that official. The total value of all gifts of money, goods, and services provided by any group or individual eligible to vote to any one Public Official or Candidate may not exceed 10% of the median household income determined by the most recent census.

This would prevent anyone other than registered voters from making campaign contributions of any kind. Companies, foreigners, lobbyists, children, the dead, and anyone else who cannot vote for whatever reason would be unable to give money to public officials or candidates. I feel this is justified because the right to vote is really the right to determine your representation, and people who do not have that right giving money which can and does influence elections and therefore public policy is a violation of that right of the voters to determine their representation. The limit on the contribution is to ensure that people who aren’t wealthy and wish to contribute will be contributing meaningful amounts compared to the super wealthy.

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