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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Atkray (profile), Mar 22nd, 2011 @ 11:10pm

    If his tool works as designed, and I suspect it will, he will be calling attention to activities that the members of congress would rather not be publicized.

    I shudder to think what the government will do to him.

     

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  2.  
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    Jay (profile), Mar 22nd, 2011 @ 11:17pm

    Re:

    If that happens, I shudder to think what the Streisand effect will do to the members of Congress.

    They tried that with Opensecrets before I believe. Look at it now.

     

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  3.  
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    epiphanous coward, Mar 22nd, 2011 @ 11:36pm

    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!

     

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  4.  
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    -, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 1:13am

    You could make such tool to show anything. There are so many individual votes and so many lobbyists that you can find a ton of correlations that are good for any purpose.

    I wouldn't trust it.

     

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  5.  
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    Michael, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 2:08am

    I would be worried..

    This guy will end up labeled a commie and harassed by the feds for all kinds of ridiculous things.

     

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  6.  
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    The eejit (profile), Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 2:13am

    Re:

    Well, I'd trust it far more than the arrogant fuckers who run the US.

     

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  7.  
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    DS, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 3:44am

    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.

     

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  8.  
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    Wolfy, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 4:17am

    If this story gets too much press, I'm sure the technique will be outlawed.

     

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  9.  
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    abc gum, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 5:06am

    Re:

    Campaign contribution activities will become state secrets and you will be deemed a terrorist if you leak the info.

     

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  10.  
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    abc gum, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 5:11am

    Re:

    "How do you legislate against a basic right of the constitution?"

    - Despite what SCOTUS said, corporations are not human.

    "I'm not sure what the best solution is"

    - There isn't one.

     

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  11.  
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    The eejit (profile), Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 5:20am

    Re: Re:

    Torch the Constitution, clearly.

     

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  12.  
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    Anon, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 5:25am

    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.

     

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  13.  
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    NullOp, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 5:27am

    Tool

    I hope this tool becomes reliable enough to be used in the trials of most of elected officials! I have no doubts ALL of them are shady at one time or other.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 5:48am

    This information is available through state campaign finance websites and the fec.gov.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous American, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 6:26am

    Re:

    I wouldn't trust a single data point, however if my Senator $FOO votes for consistently for things that help large donators $BAR and $BAZ, that tells me something's rotten AND that Senator $FOO needs to seek new employment.

     

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  16.  
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    ex-US Senate Aide, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 7:02am

    Re: 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., http://www.financialsecrecyindex.com/).

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 7:23am

    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.

     

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  18.  
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    DoxAvg, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 8:44am

    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.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 9:18am

    Re: Be careful with correlation and causation

    Really? If I was a company, why would I bribe someone who already supports me? I think I'd spend my bribes on those that need to have their mind changed.

     

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  20.  
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    DS, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 10:48am

    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?

     

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  21.  
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    DS, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 10:49am

    Re: Re:

    Oh, and are you willing to view Unions, or any other large group under the same view as corporations as well?

     

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  22.  
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    MrWilson, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 11:12am

    Re: When is the Truth Illigal?

    The Truth is copyrighted and subject to DMCA takedown notices.

    Linking to the Truth will get your domain seized without due process since linking is a tool for criminals and terrorists.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    harbingerofdoom (profile), Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Re: Be careful with correlation and causation

    in order to have their continued support.
    that exactly is how politics and lobbying works.

    the ideal that you would not need to bribe someone simply because they support you *now* is nice... and a bit of a pollyanna outlook... but its certainly nice...

     

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  24.  
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    epiphanous cowhard, Mar 23rd, 2011 @ 7:25pm

    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?

     

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  25.  
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    TheStupidOne, Mar 24th, 2011 @ 1:00pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    MrWilson, Mar 25th, 2011 @ 9:48am

    Re: Re: Re: When is the Truth illegal?

    Any reference to the Emperor's wardrobe other than praise for it, much less the insinuation that he is less than dressed in the finest threads will result in immediate execution.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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